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OSMANIA UNIVERSITY LIBRARY 

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This book should be returned on or before dictate last marked below. 




FICTION 
AND THE READING PUBLIC 



FICTION 

AND 

THE READING PUBLIC 



Q. D. LEAVIS 

Research Fellow of Girton 
College^ Cambridge 



1939 

CHATTO & WINDUS 

LONDON 



PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN 



SECOND IMPRESSION 
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 



For 

F. R. L. 



Acknowledgments 

FIRST I have to acknowledge my debt to the 
generosity of Girton College in electing me to the 
Ottilie Hancock research fellowship, without which I 
should not have been able to carry out this piece of 
work. And especially to the Vice-Mistress, Miss 
H. M. R. Murray, who from the outset has encouraged 
me to persist in the line of research I have chosen. 

I must also record with gratitude my indebtedness 
to a number of junior members of Cambridge Uni- 
versity who enthusiastically joined in the work of 
finding data that bore on the state of contemporary 
culture. My thanks in this connection are especially 
due to Mr. A. D. H. Thompson and Mr. W. C. 
Hunter, then at St. John's College. 

The kindness of the novelists who replied to my 
questionnaire I have mentioned in the body of this 
book, but I should like to express my recognition of 
the forbearance and generosity of two of my corre- 
spondents in particular : Mrs. Maud Diver and Mr. 
Edgar Rice Burroughs. 



vn 



CONTENTS 

Introduction Page xiii 

Part I THE CONTEMPORARY SITUATION 

I The Book Market 3 

II The Middlemen 19 

III Author and Reader 33 

Part II THE PAST 

I The Birth of Journalism 83 

II The Puritan Conscience 97 

III The Growth of the Reading Public 1 18 

IV The Disintegration of the Reading Public 151 

i. Economic developments making for disintegration 
2. Repercussions on the Periodical 
3. Levelling down 

Part III THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BEST- 
SELLER 

I The Novel 205 

II Reading Capacity 215 

III Living at the Novelist's Expense ' 235 

Appendix A NOTES 274 

B The Outline of Popular Fiction 330 

Select Bibliography 336 

Index 345 

ix 



APPEAL 
TO THE READER 

notes to this book have unavoidably been 
JL placed at the back, but I hope they will be not 
less consulted than if they had appeared at the foot of 
the page. The material they contain has been austerely 
excluded from the text in order to save the reader, as 
far as possible, from the labour of disentangling the 
argument from the illustrative data. But I must urge 
the reader not to be deterred from sandwiching the 
notes parenthetically into the text, and I think it will 
be found that the bother of keeping the book open at 
two places at once (which I saw no way of obviating) 
will be repaid. 



XI 



INTRODUCTION 

' ^HE system of working adopted in this study 
X demands some explanation. There are two 
accepted methods of dealing with the Novel, and 
neither has scope for a kind of interest in fiction that 
I feel to be of great urgency. Henry James in Notes 
on Novelists^ and to a much lesser degree Mr. Lubbock 
in The Craft of Fiction, have made serious attempts to 
grapple with the criticism of the novel, but both books, 
the former in part and the latter wholly, are approaches 
from the academic angle. I mean by this that they 
imply the same restrictions as the phrase used by Mr. 
Eliot when he refers to * the few who can talk intelli- 
gently of Stendhal, Proust, and Henry James/ Now 
this method, which is that of literary criticism, can 
necessarily take no heed of the majority of novels 
nearly everything indeed that comes under the head of 
* fiction * which have been very extensively read for 
the last three centuries. Yet this body of writing has 
exerted an enormous influence upon the minds and 
lives of the English people ; till recently it has super- 
seded for the majority every other form of art and 
amusement ; and it forms the only printed matter 
beside newspapers and advertisements which that 
majority reads ; from the cultural point of view its 
importance cannot be exaggerated. A tangle of preg- 
nant issues is involved, questions of standards and 

xiii 



xiv FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

values are raised which bear on the whole history of 
taste. And for this purpose it is at least as important 
to take account of the fiction that does not happen to 
be, or to have become, literature as of the novels which 
ultimately get into the text-books. But the text-book 
is the only method that has so far appeared for dealing 
with fiction as distinct from literature. Even as I write 
the bulky and authoritative volumes of what looks like 
being a final History of the English Novel are being 
ground out of the press. Here are recorded the plots 
and histories of all the well-known and many of the 
less well-known English novels ; but there is no 
indication that they ever had readers, much less that 
they played any part in shaping the human spirit and 
were shaped by it; and this method precludes any 
serious discussion of values. 

Clearly both methods, the critic's and the scholar's, 
need to be supplemented by a third. A novel pulled 
up as a unit for inspection clings with its tentacles 
round so many non-technical matters that it cannot 
always be safely severed from them. I became inter- 
ested in the general question : What has happened to 
fiction and the reading public since the eighteenth 
century? I found encouragement to pursue this kind 
of interest in certain hints thrown out by Mr. I. A. 
Richards in Principles of Literary Criticism e.g. 4 there 
is some evidence, uncertain and slight, no doubt, that 
such things as " best-sellers " (compare Tarzan with 
She), magazine verse, mantelpiece pottery, Academy 
pictures, Music Hall songs, County Council buildings, 



INTRODUCTION xv 

War Memorials . . . are decreasing in merit ' (p. 36)*; 
and ' Best-sellers in all the arts, exemplifying as they 
do the most general levels of attitude development, are 
worthy of very close study. No theory of criticism is 
satisfactory which is not able to explain their wide 
appeal and to give clear reasons why those who disdain 
them are not necessarily snobs ' (p. 203). 

I soon found myself committed to a method of in- 
vestigation which I prefer to describe as ' anthropo- 
logical.* It consisted in examining all the material that 
seemed to bear on this question in an unbiassed but 
inquisitive frame of mind and concentrating on regis- 
tering shifts of taste and changes in the cultural back- 
ground, allowing such conclusions as I arrived at to 
emerge simply by comparison and contrast and analysis. 
The actual frame on which this study is constructed 
was decided on only after rejecting several other and 
more obvious structures. In studying at large any 
branch of the history of taste it is essential to recollect 
that the past can only be estimated through the present, 
and that its significance is given for us by its relation 
to the present. To be interested in cultural questions 
is necessarily to set out from the contemporary situa- 
tion, and I have organised the results of my research 
in accordance with this principle. It will be seen that 
discussion of values has as far as possible been sus- 
pended till the last section of the book was reached, 
since it could not conveniently be carried on until a 
body of evidence was placed before the reader to which 
reference could be made. 



xvi FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

The writer is well aware how inadequately the state 
and history of the periodical and the Press are treated, 
but the whole question early showed itself to be parallel 
rather than subordinate to the present undertaking. 
The proper documentation of the assertions made in 
Part II. concerning the background of humble life in 
the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was also 
rendered impossible through lack of space and fear 
of overloading the pages with a quite unmanageable 
mass of footnotes ; this needs separate treatment, and 
will take the form of a pendent study in which conflict- 
ing culture streams that could only be referred to here 
will be traced to their sources. 

I have throughout adopted the plan of producing 
evidence rather than asserting, in order that generalisa- 
tions should be so fully documented as to make them- 
selves and the reader find himself led to the conclusions 
as they presented themselves to me. If these con- 
clusions are found disquieting it is not because they 
result from a preconceived theory. I have not set out 
to state a case, though I believe a very sound case might 
be made out on the strength of this study. 



PART 1 
THE CONTEMPORARY SITUATION 



So complete was my father's reliance on the influence of reason 
over the mind of mankind, whenever it is allowed to reach them, 
that he felt as if all would be gained if the whole population were 
taught to ready if all sorts ofrtinions were allowed to be addressed 
to them by word and in ti%^^ \ and if, by means of the suffrage, 
they could nomine'* <ff legislation to give effect to the opinions they 
adopted. ' ,* ' 

Autobiography, JOHN STUART MILL. 

// i$ perhaps hardly too much to say that the future of English 
fiction may rest with this Unknown Public a reading public of 
three millions which lies right out of the pale of true literary civilisa- 
tion which is now "waiting to be taught the difference between a 
good book and a bad. It is probably a question of time only. The 
largest audience for periodical literature, in this age of periodicals, 
must obey the universal law of progress, and must, sooner or later, 
learn to discriminate. When that period comes, the readers who 
rank by millions will be the readers who give the widest reputations, 
who return the richest rewards, and will therefore command the 
services of the best writers of their time. A great, an unparalleled 
prospect await s, perhaps, the coming generation of English novelists. 
To the penny journals of the present time belongs the credit of having 
discovered a new public 1 

WILKIE COLLINS. 



THE CONTEMPORARY 
SITUATION 

I 
THE BOOK MARKET 

IN twentieth-century England not only every one 
can read, but it is safe to add that every one does 
read. Though the Report on Public Libraries (1927) 
states that not more than 1 1 per cent, of the population 
make use of the public library books, yet the number 
of Sunday newspapers sold will correct any false im- 
pression these figures may give. On the day of leisure 
even the poorest households take a newspaper, though 
it may be of a different type from that favoured by 
the educated. A Sunday morning walk through any 
residential district will reveal the head of the family 
' reading the paper ' in each front window ; in the 
poorest quarters the News of the World is read on the 
doorstep or in bed ; the weekly perusal of the Observer 
or the Sunday Times y which give a large proportion of 
their contents to book-reviews and publishers' adver- 
tisements, is in many cases the only time that even 
the best-intentioned business man or schoolmaster 
can spare for his literary education. 

The Advertiser's ABC for 1929 gives the total net 
sales of eight of the chief Sunday papers alone as nearly 
ten millions, and there exist others nearly as popular 
for which figures are not available. If one remembers 
that a newspaper is usually assumed to be read by five 



4 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

'people, and that the entire population of Great 
Britain is forty-three millions, it seems reasonable 
to conclude the existence of an inveterate general 
reading habit. The more interesting question, What 
do they read? cannot be answered without first 
indicating where and how the reading matter is 
obtained. 

The striking peculiarity of the situation is that 
while, as demonstrated above, the entire population 
above the school age has acquired reading habits, shops 
existing solely to sell books are rare outside the uni- 
versity towns of Oxford, Cambridge, and Edinburgh, 
certain parts of London and a few big cities. Serious 
book-buying has not increased in proportion to 
literacy l ; the bulk of the public does not buy many 
books 2 but borrows or hires them, in the former case 
from the not very satisfactory municipal or endowed 
libraries, in the latter from subscription libraries of 
various kinds. The investigation made in 1924 into 
the stocks and issues of urban libraries revealed that 
while they had 63 per cent, of non-fiction works on 
an average to 37 per cent, of fiction, only 22 per cent. 
of non-fiction was issued in comparison with 78 per 
cent, of fiction, while the county libraries, which 
stocked 38 per cent, of non-fiction to 62 per cent, 
of fiction, issued only 25 per cent, non-fiction. 3 
This, considering that the n per cent, minority 
which takes advantage of its right to borrow books 
from the public libraries is probably the more enter- 
prising section of the poorer reading public, shows 
convincingly enough the supremacy of fiction and 
the neglect of serious reading which characterise 
the age. 



THE BOOK MARKET 5 

The fiction shelves of a public library commonly* 
contain the classics and hardy popular novels of the 
past, representative works of all the most popular 
contemporary novelists, and (more rarely) the 
' literary ' novels of the age (#), but seldom what is 
considered by the critical minority to be the signi- 
ficant work in fiction the novels of D. H. Lawrence, 
Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, T. F. Powys, and E. M, 
Forster. Apart from the fact that three out of the 
five are held by the majority to be indecent, 4 a fact 
suggestive in itself, four out of the five would convey 
very little, if anything, to the merely literate, A 
librarian who has made the experiment of putting 
' good * fiction into his library will report that no 
one would take out South Wind or The Garden 
Party, whereas, if he were to put two hundred 
more copies of Edgar Wallace's detective stories on 
the shelves, they would all be gone the same day. 
Attached to the public library is a reading-room, 
where a number of people can always be seen looking 
through the newspapers, periodicals, and magazines 
provided. 

The public library, then, is the chief source for the 
poorer class of reading-matter in book form. For those 
who can afford an annual subscription the Times Book 
Club and Mudie's Library exist in London (and send 
out boxes of books to their country clients), Messrs. 
W. H. Smith's bookstalls provide handy circulating 
libraries at railway termini and junctions, while in 

(a) By * literary novels * is meant those contemporary novels which the 
general public accepts as * literature.' It will be discussed at length in 
Chapter III. of this part, but I will anticipate for the reader's convenience 
by stating here that it includes the works of Willa Cather, Thornton Wilder, 
John Galsworthy, and David Garnett, among others. 



6 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

pvtry town of any size Messrs. Boots, the multiple 
chemists, run similar libraries at very low rates. At 
these libraries, for the lowest payment (it need not be 
more than half a guinea a year), the subscriber may 
borrow such novels and works of history, biography, 
travel, essays, etc., as the library chooses to provide 
for him, while for a larger payment he may order 
what he wishes (except that by three of these firms a 
strict moral censorship is enforced). No figures are 
available, 5 and no information forthcoming from these 
libraries on application, but as a result of spending 
many hours at different branches of each and at 
different times of the day, the writer was able to 
conclude that the proportion of ' guaranteed * or ' on 
demand ' subscriptions is not very great ; that is, 
that in general those who are enterprising and affluent 
enough to subscribe to a circulating library are 
prepared to have their reading determined for them. 
And * reading ' in this case means fiction. 6 It is not 
an exaggeration to say that for most people ' a book ' 
means a novel. This becomes apparent if one watches 
the process of selection, in which the assistant is 
generally consulted in some such formula as 4 Another 
book like this one, please/ or ' Can you recommend me 
a nice book? * The assistant glances at the novel held 
out and produces another novel which is accepted 
without question. She may ask ' Have you read 
this ? * and the answer will be ' I can't remember, but 
Pll take it/ Where criticism is offered, it almost 
invariably betrays a complete ignorance of values, e.g. 
a common complaint : ' I can't read Conrad, sea- 
stories bore me,' or alternatively : ' I like Conrad 
because I'm so fond of stories about the sea/ In the 



THE BOOK MARKET 7 

better districts the subscribers bring lists of novels 
they have copied out from the newspaper advertise- 
ments or reviews. 

Undoubtedly there are subscribers who use the 
circulating libraries to supplement and direct their 
book-buying. But no one who has made a point of 
frequenting London and provincial branches of the 
book-clubs for the past few years can avoid concluding 
that the book-borrowing public has acquired the 
reading habit while somehow failing to exercise any 
critical intelligence about its reading. It is significant 
that the proportion of fiction to non-fiction borrowed 
is overwhelmingly great, that women rather than men 
change the books (that is, determine the family 
reading), and that many subscribers call daily to 
change their novels. This, along with the informa- 
tion volunteered by a public librarian that many take 
out two or three novels by Edgar Wallace a week, and 
the only other books they borrow are ' Sapper's * 
or other * thrillers/ suggests that the reading habit 
is now often a form of the drug habit. In suburban 
side-streets and even village shops it is common to 
find a stock of worn and greasy novels let out at 2d. or 
3d. a volume ; and it is surprising that a clientele 
drawn from the poorest class can afford to change the 
books several times a week, or even daily; but so 
strong is the reading habit that they do. 

An article in the Publishers' Circular (a) called 
' Pushing a Lending Library ' shows the kind of 
fiction in demand at such places. It was apparently 
a small suburban circulating library, which charged 
3d. a week. Its regular advertisement was 

(a) August 6th, 1927. 



8 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

BOOKS ! 

Good Selection by 

4 Sapper ' Edgar Wallace 

Sax Rohmer William Le Queux 

Zane Grey Margaret Pedler 

E. M. Dell Margaret Peterson 

May Christie Kathlyn Rhodes 

Olive Wadsley 

These were jthe regular authors advertised, with the 
addition of Rider Haggard, Ruby M. Ayres, and 
Oppenheim, and the advertisement is reported as 
being highly successful. [It will be noticed that by 
the heading * Books ' is meant novels.] 

In the case of such tuppenny dram-shops the 
choite of reading is determined in effect by the supply, 
which is the shopkeeper's attempt to provide attractive 
reading, but even in the great subscription libraries 
the client is as passive. The writer of ' a bona-fide 
experience ' relates in the Manchester Evening 
News (a) how when he went into Mudie's to change a 
novel for his wife the assistant produced ' a detective 
story by J. S. Fletcher and a romantic adventure 
by W. J. Locke/ explaining that * if a woman is taken 
up with a house all day, she doesn't want tales about 
married problems or misunderstood wives she knows 
enough about these already; she can't be bothered 
with dialect after a day's work, and historical novels 
aren't alive enough. What she enjoys is something 
that is possible but outside her own experience you 
see if I'm not right.' The writer adds ' And she was/ 

(a) February 2 and, 1926. 



THE BOOK MARKET 9 

The effect of all this upon taste will be examined 
later on in this study ; the effects on the book market 
are thus described by Mr. Stanley Unwin the publisher 
in his important work, The Truth About Publishing : 

Circulating libraries are amongst the biggest buyers upon 
whom the town traveller calls, and here we enter upon a 
very thorny subject. There are some publishers who defend 
the circulating libraries; some who would like to see them 
abolished root and branch. In so far as they promptly and 
efficiently supply the public with the particular books for 
which the public asks, it is difficult to see that serious objec- 
tion can be reasonably taken to them; but unfortunately the 
conditions here laid down are applicable only to what is known 
as ' guaranteed subscriptions, 9 and, although I have no 
statistics before me, I imagine that guaranteed subscribers 
form a tiny minority. There is no certainty that what other 
subscribers ask for they will be given. . . . 

The present system tends to assist the circulation of in- 
different and bad books, and to retard the circulation of really 
good books, especially those by writers who have not yet 
established reputations. . . . There is one circulating library 
that makes a boast of the extent to which it can force its 
subscribers to take what is given them, which means, in that 
particular case, what the library can buy cheapest. . . . The 
remedy for all this is not necessarily the abolition of circu- 
lating libraries (the circulating-library habit has become far 
too engrained in England for that), but the educating of the 
public to see that they get the books they ask for and not 
substitutes. ... I feel strongly that any form of subscrip- 
tion other than a guaranteed subscription is pernicious. 

Without going here into the question of what 
Mr. Unwin means by the terms ' bad books ' and 
' really good books/ one can at least point out that 
the provision of novels by the commercial libraries 
for their subscribers means a provision for the widest 



io FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

common level of taste, since it pays better to buy (at 
a substantial discount) three hundred copies of one 
novel that every one will be willing to read than a few 
each of a hundred different books that will not 
circulate throughout the clientele. Any bookseller if 
asked why people don't buy books will inevitably 
reply that the circulating libraries are responsible 
* look at France, where the only way to read a book 
is to buy it, and haven't book-sales increased in France 
three- or four-fold since the war ? ' But though the 
facts are correct, the explanation is inadequate. The 
English public will not pay for books as freely as it 
pays for clothes and entrance to the cinema, but if 
does buy the work of the journalist magazines (at a 
shilling or more a month), and any number of news- 
papers to a family. The French buy books because 
France has an educated public, 7 the English buy 
journals and periodicals. 

Scattered liberally throughout every district, even 
the poorest, are newsagents' shops whose function is 
to supply the neighbourhood's reading ; these explain 
the absence of bookshops. An analysis of the stock 
of typical newsagents 8 yielded the following repre- 
sentative list : 

I. Periodicals. [(A) after a title signifies American.] 

(a) Daily and weekly newspapers in great variety. 9 

() A few cultural weeklies of different levels, 

ranging from the New Statesman and Nation (not 

obtainable unless ordered) to John o* London's, 

which contains literary gossip, and articles about 

books and authors by popular writers. 10 In 

between comes such a paper as Everyman or the 

Week-End Review, that sets out to tell its readers 



THE BOOK MARKET u 

which books they will like, or the Listener, published 
by the B.B.C. 

(c) Weekly humorous papers such as Punch (based 
on the middle-class prejudices) and the Humorist 
(lower class). 

(d) Seven or eight luxurious shilling illustrated news 
magazines with a Punch orientation, 11 e.g. the Tat/er, 
Sphere, Sketch, Sporting and Dramatic, Bystander. 

(e) An occasional representative of the literary 
periodicals (see below). 

(f) More than a score of substantial story magazines, 
6d, or is. monthly e.g. the Strand, Happy, Hush 
Magazine, Nash's, Wide World (' The Magazine for 
Men '), True Story, World Stories of Thrills and 
Adventure, and several devoted to detective stories, 
one at least, Black Mask, American. 

(g) Women's magazines i.e. magazines contain- 
ing stories as in class (/) but specially designed for a 
feminine public by means of articles on home-furnish- 
ing, housekeeping, clothes, cookery, and beauty, with 
a heavy cargo of advertisements. 

Twelve of these are stocked regularly e.g. repre- 
sentative titles are Modern Woman (' It specialises 
in the personal touch '), Good Housekeeping (A), Ideal 
Home, Delineator (A), Woman and Beauty, the most 
popular of all being American. These frequently 
boast of supplying ' first-class fiction/ 

(h) Nine film magazines not technical but filled 
with fiction and articles of film interest, and film 
publicity designed to create * film-fans/ Of these 
nine, seven are American, with such names as Motion 
Picture Classics (A) (' The Magazine with a Person- 
ality '), Screen Romances (A), Screen Play Secrets (A), 



12 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

Greenland (A) (' America's Smartest Screen Magazine '), 
the Motion Picture (A), the Picturegoer. 

A newsagent, asked of this section ' And do they 
sell?' replied 'Vastly/ Perhaps here should be 
mentioned College Humour (A), an American magazine 
devoted to articles, stories, and jokes on college life. 

(i) 2d. weekly papers in magazine form containing 
the crudest marketable fiction e.g. London Novels 
('Was He Her Husband?'), Love Stories (' Only a 
Painted Doll '), Peg's Paper, Eve's Own at least a 
dozen. 

2. A large stock of 6d., 9d., and is. paper novels 12 
(by popular writers such as Oppenheim, Edgar* 
Wallace, Baroness Orczy). 

3. Benn's Sixpenny Library (light educational 
pamphlets). 

4. A selection of Benn's Sixpenny Augustan Poets. 

5. A row or two of Nelson's is. 6d. Classics and 
a few more of 2s. popular novels. 

6. An assortment of children's books, dictionaries, 
and cookery books. 

7. A number of sixpenny novels published by the 
Readers' Library and the Novel Library. 

The proportions may vary slightly class 5 may 
be absent, or it may swell in an affluent district to 
include more expensive popular novels and such 
safe ys, 6d. or even half-guinea works as the Forsyte 
volumes, The Good Companions, The Week-End Book, 
the latest P. G. Wodehouse and Ethel M. Dell, or 
classes 3 and 4 may not be represented. But never- 
theless the significant facts emerge, that books are not 
generally bought but magazines are, that of these 
there is an enormous steady sale at all levels and 



THE BOOK MARKET 13 

prices, although there is not enough demand for 
serious papers to make it worth the newsagents' 
while to stock them on chance, 13 and that what Mr. 
Oliver Madox Hueffer found in his recent investiga- 
tion of a poor South London suburb is largely true of 
the book market all over the country : 

Literature was confined to chemists* or to drapers' shops 
and devoted chiefly to fiction and the cheaper magazines. 
The few free public libraries strove, not unworthily, to cater 
for more serious readers, but lack of funds prevented the 
acquisition of new works to any useful extent and their 
contents were too miscellaneous to be of great value to the 
. student (a). 

Moreover, certain reading habits have been formed 
and stabilised by the kind of matter provided by the 
magazine and the manner of its presentation. These 
will be discussed in Part II., but some indication of 
the general trend will be found in the popularity of 
women's and film magazines, especially those published 
in America and consequently in an idiom hitherto 
foreign to the English periodical. 

Another point to be made here is that classes (#), 

(0> 00 (/)> (?)> anc * W conta ^ n at l east as much 
advertisement as letterpress, and when the cost of 
printing and illustrating the paper and the rates of 
payment to writers and staff are considered, it becomes 
evident that the price which the retailer pays for the 
paper or magazine is a good deal less than the cost of 
production. That is to say, the periodical is virtually 
dependent upon the advertiser, 14 so that its policy is 
to consider the advertisers' interests above all, and 
(since it only pays to advertise where sales are greatest) 
(a) Some of the English (1930), by Oliver Madox Hueffer, p. 291. 



H FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

tt> sacrifice everything to a large circulation. The 
effects of this principle will be made plain in Part II. 
There is one other agent whose influence upon the 
book market must not be overlooked. If the Times 
Book Club and Mudie's serve the upper middle-class 
and Boots' the lower middle-class, while the news- 
agent's represents the bookshop for most people, 
there is the bookshop of the working-class to consider. 
Where multiple stores have a branch there is usually 
to be found a bazaar of the American firm, Messrs. 
Woolworth ; here for 3d. or 6d. nearly everything 
necessary to existence may be bought, including 
literature. It is all fiction, and of three kinds. There 
is a counter for 2d., 3d., and 6d. paper novels by 
Gene Stratton Porter and the English equivalents. 
There is another labelled ' Yank Magazines : Interest- 
ing Reading,' where American magazines are re- 
maindered at 3d., and of these there is presumably a 
steady sale, as the stock changes frequently. There 
is, moreover, a brisk trade done in the Readers' 
Library and similar 6d. cheap editions, first introduced 
to the public by these stores. The Foreword to each 
volume explains the object of the series in these terms : 

The READERS' LIBRARY is intended to bring the best- 
known novels of the world within the reach of the millions, 
by presenting at the lowest possible price per copy, in con- 
venient size, on excellent paper, with beautiful and durable 
binding, a long series of the stories, copyright and non- 
copyright, which every one has heard of and could desire to 
read. 

Nothing of the kind has ever before been possible, even in 
the days when book production has been least expensive. 16 
To render it possible now it will be necessary that each 
volume should have a sale of hundreds of thousands of copies, 



THE BOOK MARKET 15 

and that many volumes of the series should in due course 
find their way into nearly every home, however humble, in 
the British Empire. 

The publishers have the utmost confidence that this end 
will be achieved, for already, in less than five years that 
these books have been on the market, upwards of fifty million 
copies have been sold in Great Britain alone. 

The novels of the READERS' LIBRARY will be selected by 
one of the most distinguished of living men of letters, 16 and 
a short biographical and bibliographical note on the author 
and his works will be appended to each volume. 

The editor started off by choosing the popular 
classics (Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Last Days of 
Pompeii, Pilgrim's Progress, Westward Ho!, etc.) 
and writing a critical introduction to each ; but soon 
a new principle became appareht : whenever a super- 
film was released Love (film-version of Anna 
Karenina), Ben Hur, His Lady (film of Manon Lescaui), 
The Man Who Laughs (film-version of L y Homme Qui 
Rii) * the book of the film ' was published too (and 
advertised as such on the dust-cover, with photo- 
gravures from the film inside). This sold so well that 
the next stage was to produce an eponymous book of 
the film or play, when none existed, put together by 
a hack, These, with thrillers and very popular 
novelettes, now hold the field and acknowledge 
the frank commercialisation of a series which was 
hailed warmly on its appearance in 1924 by statesmen 
and bishops. The distinguished man of letters de- 
scended in his introductions from critic to apologist, 
then to a champion of popular taste 17 ; last of all he con- 
tented himself with a few facts about author and story. 

The latest stage is the appearance of the Readers' 
Library Film Edition with this Foreword : 



16 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

The Readers' Library Film Edition has been instituted to 
meet a real modern demand. Interest in a film is by no means 
exhausted merely by seeing it. The two arts, or forms of 
expression, the picture and the written word in book form, 
react one on the other. ... In a word, the filmgoer wishes also 
to read the book of the film, and the reader to see the picture. 

To meet this undeniable call for literature associated with 
the film, it would not be enough to produce books of inferior 
quality. . . . Publication will coincide with the appearance of 
each new and important film (a). 

The distinguished man of letters has been dropped 
in favour of the American film-producer, a change all 
the easier since the ' talkie ' furnishes ready-made 
dialogue. The introductory paragraph is now signi- 
ficantly directed away from literature, and the appeal to 
the reader is focussed on the film-star : 

4 The Rogue Song,' based on the popular romantic musical 
comedy ' Gipsy Love,' is one of the most colourful achieve- 
ments of the talking screen. The story makes a gripping 
novel, and Mr. Val Lewton's style has captured all the 
melody and romance of the film, which has for its star 
Lawrence Tibbett, America's greatest baritone. . . . This 
heart-throbbing romance of a gypsy bandit's love for a beauti- 
ful princess forms one of the most delightful film novels we 
have yet published. 

There appears to be money in ' literature associated 
with the film,' for the Novel Library (' For Fiction 
Lovers ') has similarly gone over to the talkies. Start- 
ing, like the Leisure Library Ltd. and the Detective 
Story Club Ltd. (), as a close imitation of the Readers' 
Library, it has stopped publishing Wells and Gals- 
worthy for the masses and now produces the book of 
the talkie : 

(a) The italics are mine. 

(b) All three are sold along with the Readers* Library. 



THE BOOK MARKET 17 

Welcome Danger is introduced to the public in the- 
language of the talkies ' Know Harold Lloyd ? 
Sure. Seen him in " College Days " and " Safety 
Last"? Sure. Well, you haven't laughed until 
you've seen him in " Welcome Danger " the funniest 
thing he's done yet. And you'll be tickled to death 
when you read the book, for in it you get right close 
up to Harold,' etc. 

The effect of the increasing control by Big Business 
in which it would hardly be unreasonable, on the 
strength of the evidence above, to include the film 
interests is to destroy among the masses a desire to 
read anything which by the widest stretch could be 
included in the classification ' literature,' and to 
substitute something which is best described by the 
title-page of a specimen : 

* The Girl from China ' 

novelized by Karen Brown. 
Adapted from 
John Cotton's 

DRIFTING 

Universal Picture 
starring MARY NOLAN. 

A selection of the Readers' Library is now sold by 
most newsagents, but the chief sale of these libraries 
is still at the bazaars. Here, while passing from 
counter to counter to buy cheap crockery, strings of 
beads, lamp-shades, and toffee, toys, soap, and flower- 
bulbs, and under the stimulus of 6d. gramophone 
records filling the air with ' Headin' for Hollywood ' 
and ' Love Never Dies,' the customer is beguiled into 
patronising literature. If it is a country town, the 



1 8 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

bazaar is packed on market-day with the country folk 
who come in once a week to do their shopping, so 
that Woolworth literature supplies the county with 
reading (a) ; if it is a city, the housewives of the 
district make their regular tour on Saturdays, though 
a constaht stream passes along the counters handling 
the goods throughout the week. So paper-covered 
novels by Nat Gould, Charles Garvice and Joseph 
Hocking, 18 P. C. Wren, Sabatini and Phillips Oppen- 
heim ; American magazines Ranch Romances (' Love 
Stories of the Real West '), Far- West Stories, Love 
Romances (' Gripping clean love stories '), The Popular 
Magazine (* America's Best and Brightest Fiction 
Magazine '), Marriage Stories, Detective Classics, Black 
Mask (' Detective Fiction '), Gangster Stories (' A 
Magazine of Racketeers and Gun Molls ') ; and 
sixpenny books Harem Love (' by Joan Conquest, 
author of Desert Love '), Officer (' An Underworld 
Thriller by Hulbert Footner '), The King of Kings 
(the story of the super-film of Christianity) ; all go 
home in the shopping baskets. 

(a) * Before I conclude this letter, I cannot help observing that the sale of 
books in general has increased prodigiously within the last twenty years. 
According to the best estimate I have been able to make, I suppose that more 
than four times the number of books are sold now than were sold twenty 
years since. The poorest sort of farmers, and even the poor country people 
in general, who before that period spent their winter evenings in relating 
stories of witches, ghosts, hobgoblins, &c. now shorten the winter nights by 
hearing their sons and daughters read tales, romances, &c., and on entering 
their houses you may see Tom Jones, Roderick Random, and other enter- 
taining books stuck up on their bacon racks, &c. If John goes to town 
with a load of hay, he is charged to be sure not to forget to bring home 
M Peregrine Pickle's Adventures " ; and when Dolly is sent to market to 
sell her eggs, she is commissioned to purchase " The history of Pamela 
Andrews." ' Memoirs of the first forty-five years of The Life of James 
Lackington t Bookseller, written by himself, 2nd ed. 1792, p. 386. 



II 

THE MIDDLEMEN 

IT has been calculated by an enterprising journalist 
that ' more than 200,000,000 words of new 
fiction are published every month ' (a). Though a 
good deal of this appears in the form of stories in the 
900 magazines, still there is a steady spate of novels. 
Whereas publishers now lose money over poetry, 
novels are notoriously their chief source of profit. As 
shown in the last chapter, novel-reading is now largely 
a drug habit, and the book market depends on a 
public which buys its literature in accordance with 
tastes acquired from its circulating library reading. 
But one can go deeper into the question, What 
determines the choice of books ? People do not spend 
anything from six shillings to half a guinea on a novel, 
or even sixpence at Woolworth's or the local news- 
agent's, without some idea of what they are getting, 
and naturally very few have both the time and ability 
to sift the novels published every year themselves. 

In the twentieth century a public of forty-three 
millions has to be reached, since it is all, though un- 
equally, literate, and that proportion of it which buys 
or borrows books is so scattered in space and isolated 
further by differences of development and education, 
that it needs as vast an organisation as the modern Press 
to serve as middleman between author and reader, 
with its book-reviews, -advertisements, and literary 

(a) Kenneth MacNichol, advertisement of The Technique of Fiction 
tingi <vide p. 31. 

19 



20 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

articles. The purely literary periodicals alone can be 
divided on internal evidence into three classes, serving 
three different levels of reading public, and each would 
be of little use to the other's readers. The Criterion 
will review only those novels which have some pre- 
tensions to literary merit and can be criticised by 
serious standards (it is common even in literary circles 
to fling the epithet * highbrow ' at it) ; the Times 
Literary Supplement, representing a ' safe ' academic 
attitude, will summarise and comment on the plot and 
merits of any work by a novelist of standing ; while a 
whole handful of cheap weeklies appear to satisfy a 
demand for literary gossip and information about the 
readableness of books. It will be convenient to call 
these levels ' highbrow,' ' middlebrow ' and * low- 
brow.' Typical lowbrow literary organs sell 30,000, 
50,000, and in one case 100,000 copies of each 
number, whereas in the next class the London Mercury 
only reaches the 10,000 figure (a)\ for the Criterion 
figures are not available, but its oscillation from 
quarterly to monthly and back is suggestive of insuffi- 
cient support 19 ; and the Adelphi, a much less uncom- 
promising periodical with a similar history, had an 
average of 4200 copies as a shilling monthly from 
1 923 to 1 927, dropped to 1 700 as a half-crown quarterly 
1927-1930, and since becoming a shilling monthly 
ag^in sells less than 4500 ; and the Calendar, at least 
as intelligent and severe as the Criterion and far 
livelier, died for lack of support in 1928 after three 
years' unequalled service. A novel received with 
unqualified enthusiasm in a lowbrow paper will be 

(a) The Times Literary Supplement's sale of 30,788 is due to its being a 
trade organ for booksellers, schoolmasters, etc. 



THE MIDDLEMEN 21 

coolly treated by the middlebrow and contemptuously 
dismissed if mentioned at all by the highbrow Press ; 
the kind of book that the middlebrow Press will 
admire wholeheartedly the highbrow reviewer will 
diagnose as pernicious ; each has a following that 
forms a different level of public. 20 

We now have, apparently, several publics, loosely 
linked together, with nearly a score of literary weeklies, 
monthlies, and a quarterly which serve to standardise 
different levels of taste. Their relative sales seem to 
show a rapidly decreasing minority of taste to adopt 
for the moment the conventional prejudices. The 
sales of even the extremes, say 250,000 for the united 
lowbrow literary organs and 4000 at the other end, 
apparently represent little effective difference in a popu- 
lation of forty-five millions, yet it is worth noticing 
that the latter stands at face value only (most of those 
who read at the Criterion level are likely to be sub- 
scribers), whereas the Listener, Everyman, John o* 
London's ... all serve the same level of reading 
public, pass through innumerable hands in the read- 
ing-rooms of public libraries, and even then have in 
addition a vast body of inert support in the public 
which buys the large-circulation dailies (selling a 
million or two each) and Sunday papers (one to three 
millions each). 

It is this public which has made nearly all the big 
newspapers think it worth their while to pay for the 
services of very well-known literary figures, who 
provide a weekly article or batch of reviews once a 
week. In these they confidently recommend certain 
novels which, by the reputation of the critic (novelist 
or journalist) as much as by the publicity received, 



22 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

become widely known and read. Responsible book- 
sellers will volunteer that Mr. Arnold Bennett, for 
instance, had only to mention a novel in his weekly 
article to sell an edition, 21 and his successor, Mr. 
Harold Nicolson, has recently sent The Way of All 
Flesh out of print by referring to it in his B.B.C talks ; 
advertisements of novels now commonly quote simply 
one of the offhand judgments these writers throw out, 
in the nature of pontifical statements rather than criti- 
cisms, 22 and an enterprising publisher will reissue the 
novel with a band or new dust-jacket exhibiting the 
caption. All this tends to show that the majority has 
its mind made up for it before buying or borrowing 
its reading, for even those who do not glance at 
the book-reviews in their daily and weekly papers 
hardly escape being influenced by the advertisements. 
Modern advertising will be discussed later, but it is 
enough to observe here that it has reached a dangerous 
level of efficiency. 

An even more efficient standardisation of taste is 
suggested by the activities of the Book Society and the 
late Book Guild. The former was started on the model 
of the American Book-of-the- Month Club in 1927, 
the latter early in 1930, each with a Selection Com- 
mittee of five novelists and journalists (nearly all of 
whom are also reviewers for newspapers and 
magazines). The method in each case is this : 

Publishers throughout the country are submitting their 
most important works in advance of publication to the selec- 
tion committee. From these the committee select their 
' book of the month,' and in addition compile a supplement- 
ary list -of others they can thoroughly recommend. 

On the morning of publication every member of the Book 



THE MIDDLEMEN 33 

Society receives a first edition of the book the committee 
have chosen. Enclosed in this book is a copy of the * Boole 
Society News,' which contains reviews by the members of 
the committee both of the selected books and of those on the 
supplementary list. If any members feel that the book chosen 
is not their book, they may return it within five days and will 
receive by return whatever book they select in exchange from 
the supplementary list. In point of fact, the majority of 
books selected are likely to be novels, because more new 
fiction is published than any other category of literature. . . . 
Join the Book Society and you need never miss a really 
good book (a). 

The Book Society claims that * With the help of the 
Selection Committee it will be impossible for you to 
miss any really worth-while book that is published ' (), 
and generally encourages the impression recorded by 
one of its members (c) (reflecting * the general tone of 
the articles that have poured into this office ') that by 
joining the Book Society they are ' permanently in 
touch with all that is finest in modern literature. 1 On 
what level the Selection Committee actually works 
may be best indicated by the kind of book it chooses 
or recommends novels of such competent journal- 
ists as G. B. Stern, A. P. Herbert, Rebecca West, 
Denis Mackail . . ., sapless * literary ' novels, or the 
smartly fashionable (Hemingway, Osbert Sitwell). 
By December 1929 the society had nearly seven 
thousand members (*/), and it is still growing, from 
which the quite unbiassed observer might fairly deduce 
two important cultural changes : first, that by con- 
ferring authority on a taste for the second-rate (to the 
Book Society the publication of A Modern Comedy is 

(a) Advertisement in the Observer -, March 23rd, 1930. 

(b) The Books You Read (published by the Book Society). 

(c) The Book Society News, March 1930. (d) Ibid., December 1929. 



24 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

' a real event in the story of modern English 
literature ' (*)) a middlebrow standard of values has 
been set up ; second, that middlebrow taste has thus 
been organised. An assured public of seven thousand 
claiming moreover to represent literary enlighten- 
ment is a formidable argument with publishers, and it 
is not only the massed seven thousand. As Mr. 
Walpole (one of the Book Society Committee) says (), 
1 There is no doubt that many more copies of The 
Edwardians y The Water Gypsies, and Bengal Lancer 
have been sold in the bookshops than would have been 
the case had they not been Book Society choices/ 

The same impartial observer would notice a certain 
irritation in the explanatory literature of the Book 
Guild. Though it admittedly sets out to help a public 
that wants something merely readable, its committee 
cannot guarantee to provide that without also arrogat- 
ing righteousness and betraying hostility to any more 
serious standards : 

Out of the thousands of books published every year there 
are between 12,000 and 14,000 how on earth is the ordin- 
ary person to sift the sheep from the goats? Distinguished 
critics attempt to guide the public, but they are so often hope- 
lessly * highbrow ' and * precious/ and simply add to the 
general confusion and bewilderment. 

When the aims of the Book Guild were explained to me, 
therefore, it seemed too good to be true an organisation 
which would cater for the ordinary Intelligent reader, not for 
the highbrows an organisation which would realise that a 
book can have a good story and a popular appeal and yet be 
good literature be good literature and yet be absorbingly 
interesting, of the kind you can't put down once you've 
started, an organisation which would not recommend a book 

(a) The Book Society News, August 1929. 

(b) Week-End Review, October nth, 1930. 



THE MIDDLEMEN 25 

as a work of genius simply becafuse it had been eulogised by, 
some pedantic critic or other. . . . The Book Guild, by 
means of its Recommended List of Alternative Titles, is 
able, as it were, to keep its fingers on the pulse of the best of 
contemporary work, whilst at the same time providing some- 
thing for everybody and that something the best of its kind. 
One of its chief aims is to avoid indulging in the deplorable 
affectation of recommending as a work of * genius ' the sort 
of thing which is dubbed clever simply because it is mainly 
unintelligible and written in an obscure manner, or boosting 
some foreign work simply because it is foreign, and the 
author's name difficult to pronounce. [Miss Ethel Mannin 
in The Bookworm's Turn, published by the Book Guild.] 

The detective novel writers have their own clientele, 
though they make no appeal to the young ladies who throng 
the counters of Boots' libraries, and but little to the sheep-like 
crowd who follow the dictates of highbrow literary critics. 
[George A. Birmingham in The Book Guild Bulletin, July 
1930, accounting for the Book Guild's choice of a detective 
novel.] * 

The state of inflammation noticeable here, of which 
other indications will be apparent throughout this and 
the next chapter, is perhaps the most significant feature 
of, and indeed characterises, the contemporary cultural 
situation. In this connection the appeal to herd- 
instinct made by the publications of both societies is 
suggestive, just as publishers will advertise simply 

' OLD PYBUS by Warwick Deeping. 
75,000 copies in six weeks/ 

with the assumption that a novel is more likely to be 
' good ' if it appeals to a horde of readers than to a 
minority, and the winner of the Book Society's com- 
petition [' What the Book Society Has Meant to Me '] 
declares : ' I have looked on the Book Society as a fold 
into which I can creep for shelter, knowing that the 



26 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

fleeces of the other sheep will be the same colour as 
my own/ 

The same anxiety to conciliate and flatter the ' man 
in the street ' is an essential trait of the contemporary 
journalist ; in Michael Joseph's Journalism for Profit 
there is an interesting chapter, ' How I make 
Journalism Pay/ contributed by successful journalists. 
A representative note is sounded here : 

. . . After that is accomplished the next business in hand 
is getting on the right side of the Great British Public, And 
keep your eyebrows well pinned down. It is quite likely 
you may know it all and in consequence feel enormously 
sorry for the Great B.P. for not having enjoyed all your 
advantages. But the Great B.P. is not always impressed. 
Very frequently it is bored stiff. Silly and presumptuous of 
it, but there it is. Amuse it. Cheer it up. Chat to it. Bully 
it a little. Tickle its funny bone. Giggle with it. Confide 
in it. Give it, now and again, a good old cry. It loves that. 
But don't, for your success's sake, come the superior high- 
brow over it. 

This is peculiarly important, since the journalist's 
power as middleman in forming popular taste can 
hardly be overestimated. It has already been stated 
that story-magazines and periodicals containing fiction 
are sold freely from bookstalls and the innumerable 
newsagents' shops, in contrast to the limited sale of 
books in the scarce and poorly stocked bookshops. 
To put the difference more cogently, an exceptionally 
popular novel, Sorrell and Son, published in 1928 at 
75. 6d. and since reprinted in cheap editions, in two 
years, according to the publisher's advertisement, has 
sold half a million copies throughout the English- 
speaking world ; the Strand Magazine sells 1 50,000 
copies a month (without any American sale), Good House- 



THE MIDDLEMEN 27 

keeping 125,400, Nash's 100,000, to name three of 
the higher class of the couple of dozen or so shilling 
monthly magazines ; while at the other end cheap little 
weeklies of class (*) on p. 12 sell 175,000 (Betty's 
Paper) or more 200,000 and 300,000 in some cases. 
The kind of fiction published in this way the briefest 
inspection will show that it is all of a kind is carefully 
chosen by the editors in accordance with the policy of 
what is called ' Giving the Public what it wants/ By 
a process not difficult to imagine and easily demon- 
strable, this has come to mean providing fiction that 
requires the least effort to read and will set the reader 
up with a comfortable state of mind. The entire 
periodical-fiction trade has been organised on a scien- 
tific basis. To achieve as large a circulation as possible 
(in order to secure the advertiser) the editor sets out 
to satisfy the common measure of taste, and he cannot 
(or thinks he cannot) afford to publish any story which 
fails to conform to type. This is frankly acknowledged 
for instance, in Short Story Writing for Profit. Mr. 
Michael Joseph (literary agent and author of The Com- 
mercial Side of Literature^ The Magazine Story, Journal- 
ism for Profit, etc.) prints a chapter ' What Editors 
Want,' contributed by the editors themselves. Here, 
repeated with scarcely any variation, is a demand for 
* dramatic and light-hearted stories with a strong love 
interest and a pleasant atmosphere ' ; * Love ? Yes. 
And romance. But nothing sordid ' ; ' Stories must 
have a strong feminine appeal and a happy ending is 
essential. Sad and sordid stories are not wanted * ; 
' The gruesome, ghostly or brutal are not required, 
while those dealing too frankly with problems of sex 
are equally unwelcome.' In order to appreciate the full 



28 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

significance of this specialisation one must be aware 
that when an editor writes * Nothing heavy, morbid or 
neurotic/ he is condemning by implication (for the 
terms are accepted counters and used for the sake of 
delicacy) the living tradition of the novel. To illustrate 
this point one must quote a manual by an American 
journalist, as being at once more outspoken and more 
innocent of critical standards : 

Writers of short stories who are ambitious to get into 
good magazines should remember further that certain sub- 
jects are in themselves undesirable, regardless of the merits of 
the story. Very few periodicals admit anything sordid or 
depressing. Writers like Thomas Hardy who have a dreary 
hopeless outlook on life are not welcomed in popular maga- 
zines, however deft their literary art. [The Contemporary 
Short Story, Henry T. Baker.] 

Since the magazine's function now is to provide 
reading fodder for odd moments, travelling and after- 
business hours, glanced through with a background of 
household chatter or * the wireless/ it is essential too 
that the stories they provide should be short, ' snappy/ 
as crudely arresting as a poster and for the same reason, 
and easy enough for the jaded mind to take in without 
exertion. What it really means is that the young writer 
who is potentially a serious novelist and is obliged to 
earn part or all of his living by his pen is in a far worse 
position than Trollope, Dickens, Thackeray (a) ; if he 
submits and trains himself to produce acceptable short 
stories and serials, then he is spoilt for literature. An 
American editor puts it naively enough : 

(a) True, Thackeray complained in the introduction to Pendennis y and 
Trollope in his Autobiography ', that in writing serial fiction they were 
hampered by a certain pudeur in their public, but this did not mean 
spiritual degradation ; there is no sign in their work of thwarting or 
lowering of tone, which is in question above. 



THE MIDDLEMEN 29 

In effect, every magazine is a package, labelled and 
authoritatively sealed with the symbol of the editor's approval. 
. . . The young author is often confused by a rejection 
which simply says, ' This is not a Harper story.' That does 
not mean it is not a good story; it simply means that the 
tale does not, in the editor's trained mind, conform to the 
type of fiction which his magazine has established (a). 

It is not irrelevant to quote an American editor here, 
for (as mentioned in Chapter I.) American magazines 
have large sales in England, and the American ideal 
is taking hold of the English periodical Press. 23 
The close connection between the journalism of the 
two countries appears in the Anglo-American Manu- 
script Service which, undertaking to place stories on 
either side of the Atlantic, sends out to its clients 

Just a Little Friendly Advice. 

If you want to be a successful writer for American publi- 
cations, for which high prices are paid for really first-class 
matter, bear in mind that American fiction, in the main, is 
not pessimistic, nor is it lewd or irreverent, neither is it red 
nor un-American. 

Avoid morbidity. The Americans don't want gloom, but 
something that will brighten life. The sun must always be 
shining. Treat sex reverently, and avoid its unsavoury 
aspects. Don't be vulgar. Remember that serious thought 
is not looked for in the majority of American magazines. 
Don't discuss religious questions in a manner that would 
offend national sentiment, and leave evolution out of your 
writings. Religion that brings out its boons and blessings to 
long-suffering humanity is deemed praiseworthy. Leave 
social and political problems to take care of themselves. Re- 
member that America is a young and prosperous country, 
and there is nothing on God's earth to equal it. 

We want to market your manuscripts. Help us to do so. 

(a) C. Hanson Towne, Adventures in Editing. See also Herbert Quick 
(editor), How to Print what the People Want. 



30 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

* English ' may equally well stand for ' American ' 
here, and, except for the evolution clause, the docu- 
ment states the conditions that every short story 
seeking publication in an English magazine must 
satisfy. For * not un-American ' may be substituted 
the cis-Atlantic editorial stipulation : ' Stories with 
foreign settings are welcomed, providing always that 
they contain either an English hero or an English 
heroine (a).' How American magazine editors, when 
they have once discovered a likely fiction-writer, will 
scientifically train and bully him into submission and 
affluence is explained in the Dance of the Machine. 
Meanwhile, in England the same process is at work 
less directly, and there are plenty of enterprising 
literary agents eager to teach, like George G. Magnus, 
How to Write Saleable Fiction. The periodicals in 
October 1930 were announcing 

You Can Learn to Write Stories that Sell. 

Twelve Lectures on the Technique of Fiction-Writing. 
Proof of value? Students of the * Twelve Lectures ' have 
reported sales to Windsor , Pearson's^ Strand^ Royal^ Twenty- 
Story y yohn o j London's almost every worth-while 24 maga- 
zine in England. 

The Twelve Lectures are by the editor of the 
Centurion, a completely successful journalist trained by 
the famous American magazine editor, ' Bob ' Davis 
4 " Write so a blind man can read it," ' Bob ' Davis 
demanded. " Write it for children to read. If you 
must say it with flowers, go sell your stuff to the high- 
brow magazines/' ' ^ The Twelve Lectures have been 
published as a guinea book ; and it is worth quoting 

(a) ' What Editors Want,' Michael Joseph, Short Story Writing for Profit. 



THE MIDDLEMEN 31 

the description of Lecture XII. * Stories that Do Not 
Sell ; Stories Editors do not Like ; The Stories that 
do Sell ; Selecting the Market/ etc. to suggest how 
thoroughly commercialised the fiction market has 
become and how completely stereotyped its demands. 
The effect of applying the rules of scientific journalism 
to the magazine has been to close the market to genius, 
talent, and distinction, and to force instead a kind 
of anaemic ability to satisfy the reading habit. From 
the point of view of literature alone this is a serious 
matter, since it means that if a writer produces stories 
whose merits place them outside the journalist's 
idea of What the Public Wants, he cannot publish 
them ; there is not one of the 900 worth-while 
magazines Mr. MacNichol refers to which would be 
open to him, and publishers are unwilling to issue 
volumes of short stories (which for some reason are 
said not to pay) (a). The potential artist of fiction 
would have to study the magazines, read up a manual 
or two, or, preferably, take a correspondence course ait 
the Regent Institute or London School of Journalism, 
and set himself to produce stories to type. If he is 
lucky he will hit on a popular formula P. G. 
Wodehouse is perhaps the most striking instance of 
this process and achieve bestseller success. There 
is no magazine even like the Yellow Book to give a start 
to fresh talent, nowhere for a serious novelist to earn 

(a) My publishers assure me that they don't, save for exceptional cases 
like Kipling, or in the case of writers already well known for their novels, 
like Aldous Huxley. First books of short stories are almost invariably 
ignored in the Press, distrusted by booksellers, and refused by the Lending 
Libraries, whose subscribers want * something to keep them going for a good 
long time,' and ' a story that gets you somewhere.' Short stories, apparently, 
do neither. The truth is, I suppose, that they offer less opportunity for living 
at the expense of the author, and their public is restricted accordingly. 



32 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

his living by writing serials (like the early and mid- 
Victorians) or short stories (like the late Victorians and 
the Edwardians), no English Illustrated Magazine, 
among others, to publish a Henry James. (It is true 
that Nash's in search of ' big names ' ran the last 
Forsyte epic as a serial, but this is not quite the same 
thing.) The modern magazine, then, while being 
very much more ' readable ' for the exhausted city 
worker than it ever was, has achieved this end by 
sacrificing any pretension to be literature; nor does 
it merely set itself to amuse and soothe. It is quite 
explicitly defiant of other standards and ambitions. 
And by accustoming the reading public to certain 
limited appeals and a certain restricted outlook, it 
has spoilt the public for fiction in book form of a 
more serious nature. 



Ill 

AUTHOR AND READER 

SOME further light on the contemporary situa- 
tion one might reasonably expect to obtain from 
a scrutiny of the popular novels themselves. Yet 
since novels are in the nature of dramatic utterances 
one may easily be misled in drawing on them for data 
without the check of some more direct kind of evidence 
for instance, information obtained from readers 
and authors. In this attempt to chart the condition of 
the reading public of to-day, the writer therefore found 
it advisable to invite the collaboration of a number of 
the most popular living novelists, a liberty which was 
nearly invariably condoned. Out of sixty authors 
invited to deal with a questionnaire, twenty-five 
returned effective replies, providing sufficient basis 
for generalisation, since the work of these twenty-five 
fortunately affords examples of every level of novel- 
reading taste. 

But before any such classification can be assumed 
it must be shown to exist. It would not be true to 
suggest a stratification of novel writers and novel 
readers in 1760, for example, when any one who could 
read would be equally likely to read any novel, or every 
novel, published, and the only division of the novelists 
of that age that can be made is between good and 
indifferent (effective and ineffective) ; even a century 
later the same conditions hold, for though at that time 
Dickens, Reade, and Wilkie Collins were the idols of 
the man in the street and George Eliot and Trollope 



34 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

of the educated, yet each class read or perfectly well 
might have read the entire output of all the con- 
temporary novelists, who all live in the same world, 
as it were, understand each other's language, live 
by the same code, and employ a common technique 
presenting no peculiar difficulty to the reader. 

Comparison of the situations at these dates (chosen 
at random) with that exhibited in the previous 
chapters has brought out a significant fact : that 
it is a peculiarity of this last generation that a con- 
sistent selection by the majority of the ' worst ' novels 
(' worst ' by consensus of the critical minority) has 
created a state exactly contrary to what the Martian 
or the innocent eighteenth-century observer might 
expect, so that * best seller * is an almost entirely de- 
rogatory epithet among the cultivated. Of this the 
' best seller ' novelists are in general aware, and 
several in replying to the questionnaire took exception 
to it as applied to themselves. To illustrate the 
curiously inverse relation now existing between 
esteem and popularity, a state of affairs that has come 
to be considered normal, the literary column of the 
Evening Standard (July I9th, 1928) may be cited, 
where the writer (Mr. Arnold Bennett), explaining 
with some apologies that he has read a novel by 
Edgar Wallace out of curiosity, urges that 

Nearly all bookish people are snobs, and especially the 
more enlightened among them. They are apt to assume 
that if a writer has immense circulation, if he is enjoyed by 
plain persons, and if he can fill several theatres at once, he 
cannot possibly be worth reading and merits only indiffer- 
ence and disdain. 

The twentieth-century reader who would let this 



AUTHOR AND READER 35 

pass as a commonplace could only be brought to 
realise that it is indeed something new in English 
history by considering as a norm Dr. Johnson re- 
joicing to concur with the common reader a position 
that for the modern dritic of equivalent standing would 
be ridiculous. 

It is not perhaps surprising that, in a society of 
forty-three millions so decisively stratified in taste 
that each stratum is catered for independently by its 
own novelists and journalists, the lowbrow public 
should be ignorant of the work and even of the names 
of the highbrow writers, 26 while to the highbrow 
public ' Ethel M. Dell ' or 4 Tarzan ' should be 
convenient symbols, drawn from hearsay rather than 
first-hand knowledge. But what close at hand is 
apparently trivial becomes a serious development when 
we realise that this means nothing less than that the 
general public Dr. Johnson's common reader has 
now not even a glimpse of the living interests of 
modern literature, is ignorant of its growth and so 
prevented from developing with it, and that the 
critical minority to whose sole charge modern literature 
has now fallen is isolated, disowned by the general 
public and threatened with extinction. Poetry and 
criticism are not read by the common reader ; the 
drama, in so far as it ever overlapped literature, is 
dead, and the novel is the only branch of letters which 
is now generally supported. And the kind of interest 
taken in the novel has been indicated in these 
chapters. 

To make this clearer it will be convenient to draw 
attention to a literary competition held by the Sunday 
Dispatch (net sales 1,200,767) from March 23rd to 



36 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

April 1 3th, 1930. It is one of the most popular 
Sunday papers. Those of its readers who entered its 
literary competition may be presumed to be repre- 
sentative enough of the great public favourably so, 
since the competition required initiative and some 
practice in self-expression. Competitors were invited 
to send their choice (with reasons) of a post-war 
book which they believe will be read a generation 
hence, together with the names of five other such post- 
war books, and some thirty replies were published (a). 
By far the most votes went to a class of novelists of 
whom Robert Louis Stevenson () may be named as 
the rather innocent forerunner : Thornton Wilder 
(The Bridge of San Luis Rey\ Willa Gather (Death 
Comes for the Archbishop), Galsworthy (The Forsyte 
Saga, A Modem Comedy}, J. B, Priestley (The Good 
Companions], David Garnett (Lady into Fox y etc.), 
respected middling novelists of blameless intentions 
and indubitable skill, ' thoughtful,' * cultured/ im- 
pressive, but lacking interest for the ' highbrow ' 
reader, who complains that their works are * academy 
art/ A representative criticism from the high-level 
reader 27 would be that they bring nothing to the 
novel but commonplace sentiments and an out- 
worn technique ; echoes of the Best People of the 
past, their productions would be dismissed by him 
as * literary.' - Literary ' novels, the account would 
continue, are all on the traditional model, and there- 

(a) The editorial choice was no doubt representative, for the same authors 
recur with monotonous regularity, and an original competitor who backed 
Ufysses, Principle of Literary Criticism, and The Poem of T. S. Eliot was 
published but as a curiosity, not a prizewinner. 

(6) ' I think David Balfour a nice little book, and very artistic and just 
the thing to occupy the leisure of a busy life.* R. L. S. in a letter. 



AUTHOR AND READER 37 

fore easy to respond to, yet with an appearance of 
originality ; they deal (like the magazine fiction of the 
age) in soothing and not disturbing sentiments, yet 
with sufficient surface stimulus to be pleasing ; their 
style, in one case a careful eighteenth-century pastiche, 
in another a point-to-point imitation of well-known 
novelists of repute, but in most cases chosen merely 
to give an impression of restraint and subtlety, is 
easily recognised by the uncritical as ' literature/ 
Not so obviously dead (in this view) as such, literary 
works as The Testament of Beauty or Landor's 
Imaginary Conversations > but equally sapless, they are 
far more readable, being novels, and their readers are 
left with the agreeable sensation of having improved 
themselves without incurring fatigue* These authors 
and others of the same kind are now the staple reading 
of the middlebrow; they will be observed on the 
shelves of dons, the superior sort of schoolmaster 
(the other sort has sets of Kipling, Ian Hay, P. G. 
Wodehouse, and Masefield's poems), and in the 
average well-to-do home ; we have already noticed 
that Book-of-the-Month Clubs by singling out such 
writers for their recommendations tend to standardise 
a taste for their work and impress on the public that 
it is ' all that is finest in modern literature.' Indica- 
tions of a widespread impression to this effect the 
observant reader will find everywhere. An advertise- 
ment copy-writer of considerable standing writing in 
Commercial Art (a) on 4 Can Copy Be Worth Reading? * 
cited Jew Suss and The Bridge of San Luis Rey as 
examples of * books of fine literary quality ' that ' sell 
by the 100,000,' in order to prove that successful 

(a) August 1930, ' Can Copy Be Worth Reading ?' by Gilbert Ruatell. 



38 DICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

* copy * need not lack the literary graces ; a reviewer 
will say in commendation of a new novelist ' She is 
the only author who reminds me of Conrad and 
Hergesheimer both at once ' (a), having formed his 
taste on the parasitic. 

But what part do they play in the lives of the readers 
of the Sunday Dispatch ? It is suggestive that practically 
every competitor has one or two of them in his batch 
of six, and no more : a plausible explanation would be 
that these he has heard of as ' good/ and they are 
there because he knows he ought to admire them, like 
The Testament of Beauty (which he occasionally includes 
in his list too). But he fills up with the novels he has 
really enjoyed (Edgar Wallace, P. G. Wodehouse, 
Warwick Deeping, P. C. Wren, The Constant Nymph, 
Ian Hay, Kipling). Of the novelists who have 
already been accepted by the active minority as serious 
writers who have brought something of their own to 
the art of the novel, these representatives of the general 
public seem never to have heard. There is not a single 
mention of Passage to India^ Mr. Weston's Good Wine^ 
or the novels of D. H. Lawrence, and To the Lighthouse 
is once chosen (along with Jew Siiss and Peter Jackson 
by Gilbert Frankau) ; Ulysses curiously enough is 
listed several times, 28 probably owing to the factitious 
fame censorship has conferred upon it. The major 
achievements of contemporary novelists appear to be 
unknown even by name to that part of the community 
journalists call the Great British Public. It does not 
mean that the mass of the public is simply a genera- 
tion behind the times, like the contemporaries of 

(a) Taken from a publisher's advertisement in the Observer, June land, 
1930. 



AUTHOR AND READER 39 

Hardy, Gissing, and Meredith, who clung to their 
Dickens, Thackeray, and Trollope ; the impartial 
assessor of the evidence brought together here can 
hardly avoid concluding that for the first time in the 
history of our literature the living forms of the novel 
have been side-tracked in favour of the faux-bon. 
An interesting confirmation of this point comes to 
hand in another newspaper competition (#), in a 
provincial town this time, for essays on ' My Favourite 
Author/ Summarising results, the editor gives as 
1 first favourites ' among the dead authors Carlyle, 
Dickens, Ruskin, Tennyson, Trollope, Hardy, among 
the living Gene Stratton Porter, P. G. Wodehouse, 
Wanyick Deeping, Hugh Walpole, John Galsworthy, 
and adds, ' It is perhaps worthy of note that Thomas 
Hardy was the most widely-quoted among the dead 
authors and P. G. Wodehouse among the living/ 
The disparity between the standing of the dead authors 
chosen (all ' classics '), where recognition of standards 
has ruled the choice, and of the living, where the 
competitors had only their own taste and judgment to 
guide them, is significant. It is also significant that 
whereas the dead favourites are novelists, poets, and 
men of letters, the living ones are all novelists, the 
competitors in general not knowing or caring about 
other kinds of contemporary literature. A sense of 
standards in the older generation which has deserted 
their children may be illustrated by the complaint made 
to the writer by one of the novelists consulted in con- 
nection with this chapter, herself one of the most 
popular and whole-hearted bestsellers : * I try to get 
my boys to read Dickens and Scott, but they won't read 

(a) Cambridge Daily News, July joth, 1930. 



40 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

anything but magazines and Edgar.' [Edgar Wallace.] 
After this digression we can return to the novelists, 
satisfied that grounds for classifying them and their 
readers exist. Sixty authors were selected as each 
answering one of the following requirements : 

1. Having written ' The Novel of the Season/ 

2. Being steady bestsellers over a long period. 

3. Having proportionately large sales for a given 

public. 

In consulting these authors, it was necessary first 
to suggest the lines along which the major problems 
should be discussed without providing questions that 
could be answered by a mere ' Yes ' or ' No ' and yet 
should pin possible discussion down to a point, and 
next to ensure that the information so given should be 
genuine. The former difficulty was solved by a care- 
fully worded questionnaire, while a covering letter 
explaining the serious and academic nature of the 
undertaking in which the novelist's co-operation was 
required met, there is every reason to believe, the 
latter. Many of the authors consulted were kind 
enough to suggest a further correspondence in which 
they generously allowed themselves to be made use of. 
An undertaking to preserve anonymity if desired was 
given in the covering letter, and in some cases accepted 
(and of course observed). But more than this is 
demanded by the conditions of such a correspondence, 
in which good faith of a less definable kind could 
hardly be requested from the contributors without 
also being promised by implication on the other side. 
What is meant may best be explained by quoting a 
letter from Mr. Edgar Rice Burroughs ; it is quoted 



AUTHOR AND READER 41 

also as suggesting a reason for the attitude the writer 
has tried to adopt in compiling this book. 

In submitting to you, in accordance with your courteous 
letter, my answers to your questionnaire, I wish you to know 
that I am fully aware of the attitude of many scholars and 
self-imagined literati toward that particular brand of death- 
less literature of which I am guilty. 

From past experience it is only natural that I should 
assume that you may, in some degree at least, share their 
views. It would seem rather remarkable to me if you did 
not. 

However, you have asked my assistance and I have given 
considerable time and thought to my reply to your question- 
naire, in which I have outlined my sincere beliefs after 
mature and serious considerations. 

It is occasionally the practice of critics to treat my work 
with ridicule and contempt, neither of which it deserves. 
If it is your purpose to draw conclusions from the answers 
you receive to the questionnaires you have circulated, may 
I ask of you, in my case, a fair and considerate treatment of 
the subject and of me? I do not intend by this to convey 
the idea that I expect you either to agree with my views or 
praise my work, but I shall appreciate it if you will treat the 
former with such seriousness as my careful and conscientious 
reply to your request merits. 

To be brightly ironical at the expense of bestsellers 
would no doubt be easy, but to yield to such an un- 
profitable temptation is not part of the present writer's 
undertaking. The very popular novelist, as Mr. 
Burroughs implies, is now commonly considered a 
figure of fun by those who cannot read his works with 
enthusiasm; it has occurred to the writer that it 
might be more useful to take him for what he is 
partner in a relation very important for literature, 
the relation, of course, that exists between novelist 
and reader. In discussing the novel which has 



42 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

come to be literature it is possible to neglect all other 
aspects of it but that which is contained between the 
covers : genius can manage to exist almost inde- 
pendent of its background, and Henry James or 
Jane Austen or Emily Bronte need not move a step 
out of the chosen path for the sake of the age they live 
in. But the merely popular novels and stories which 
have been read by one generation and rejected by 
its posterity, and whose existence and influence raise 
questions (as explained in the Introduction) of the 
first importance to the student of literature where 
they are concerned the issues cannot be so simplified. 
The popular novelist, dependent upon a public for his 
living, frequently making it by regular contributions 
to the magazines 29 (whose editors nowadays have 
been shown to keep a scientific finger on the public 
pulse), is identical with his public in background of 
taste and intellectual environment; he is now in the 
closest touch with his readers, both directly by ' fan 
mail ' and by way of such middlemen as have been 
considered in the previous chapter, in a fashion and to 
a degree that would have surprised Emily Bronte, 
amused Jane Austen, and outraged Henry James. 
But there are so few English novelists who are artists, 
and it would be easy to demonstrate that the English 
novels which are works of art are not much more 
numerous than those English dramatic works which 
are, strictly speaking, tragedies. And when we consider 
that so many authors of the novels which have achieved 
canonisation in the text-books were popular writers 
earning their bread by the pen as Defoe, Fielding, 
Scott, Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope, to name a few 
of the more prominent it becomes obvious that no 



AUTHOR AND READER 43 

sharp dichotomy exists or can be made between the 
works of fiction which cultivated persons have in the 
past found admirable and those which have amused 
the uncultured. As Henry James observed after 
trying to define what he meant by * the Novel ' (a) : 
4 I am perfectly aware that to say the object of the 
novel is to represent life does not bring the question 
to a point so fine as to be uncomfortable for any one. 
For, after all, may not people differ infinitely as to 
what constitutes life what constitutes representa- 
tion? Some people, for instance, hold that Miss 
Austen deals with life, Miss Austen represents. 
Others attribute these achievements to the accom- 
plished Ouida.' 

The relation between novelist and reader can be 
most successfully studied by interrogating the more 
conscious of the two : the question, Why do you read 
X's novels ? asked even of many hundreds of readers, 
yields little (the writer has tried a good deal of mild 
inquiry of this sort) ; the fact that they read X's novels 
and not Y's, that X's novels are doing this and not 
that, is more reliable evidence ; to ask X in detail what 
he thinks he is doing when he writes his novels is a 
more fruitful undertaking. 

To sixty authors, as explained above, the following 
questionnaire was submitted : 

1. To what do you attribute your success as a 

novelist ? 

2. Why do you think it is that your books are able 

to rival in popularity the ordinary bestseller? 

3. Have you any views about the bestseller? 

(a) Partial Portraits, p. 228. 



44 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

What in your opinion makes a great bestseller 
(e.g. John Halifax, Gentleman, Comin* thro 9 the 
Rye, The Sheik}! And how can you explain 
the fact that most bestsellers have so brief a 
period of popularity ? 

4. Do you think there are any generalisations to be 

drawn from your popularity and from that of 
popular novelists of the past e.g. Scott and 
Dickens ? Both of these were acutely aware 
of their public and studied its tastes and de- 
mands ; is your experience in accord ? Or do 
you find that the creative process in you is 
not influenced by such factors ? 

5. What are the circulations of your three most 

popular novels? Does this fluctuate? What 
factors in your opinion most influence the 
circulation of popular novels ? 

6. In the course of your career have you con- 

sciously learnt from the success or otherwise 
of your previous novels, and modified your 
work accordingly ? If so, in what directions 
and with what results ? 

What kinds of people do you imagine the bulk 
of your readers to be ? 

7. What kind of effect do you think the story 

magazines are having on the public taste? 
and on the novel market? What connection . 
do you find existing between the magazine 
story and popular novel ? 

8. Have any novels or novelists in particular 

influenced your work to any appreciable 
extent? What is your favourite reading? 
Your favourite novelist? What caused you 



AUTHOR AND READER 45 

to turn your attention to fiction as a pro- 
fession ? 

9, What form does the process of writing a novel 

take in your case? Please give any informa- 
tion you can relating to the conception, 
construction, writing, production, publishing, 
and advertising of your novels. 

10. What particular reasons do your readers give, 

when they write to you, for admiring your 
work? 

The twenty-five whose replies were specific enough 
to base conclusions upon may be tentatively classified 
with respect to their readers as : 

A. ' Highbrow ' (i). 

B. * Middlebrow ' read as * literature ' (4). 

C. ' Middlebrow * not read as ' literature,' but not 

writing for the lowbrow market (3). 

D. Absolute bestsellers (17). 

Of these, Di, 2, and 3 refused to reply at length on 
the grounds that they had no illusions about their 
work, which, they said, they knew did not merit 
serious scrutiny ; five of D (one a writer of detective 
fiction), one of C, and one of B (this writer belongs to 
an older generation than the other three in class B) 
explained that they deliberately wrote fiction as a 
comfortable way of getting a good living ' with the 
minimum of exertion, 1 one of D even scornfully dis- 
claiming any literary pretension (' I am not a literary 
cove '). These might be described as successful 
journalists in fiction, peculiarly interesting since they 
have set out to do deliberately what the other novelists 
(who all assume or claim the status of artist) have 



46 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

effected by accident ; they may be presumed to have 
some reliable notion of how they did it. 

First, to note briefly facts supporting the classifica- 
tion adopted above : even those most innocent of 
literary standards have convictions about a difference 
between kinds of novels, they are not unaware of dis- 
tinctions, and within each class taste is consistent. 
For instance, D mostly recognise candidly that each 
other's novels are * bad ' i.e. pernicious or contempt- 
ible as literature, but are prepared to defend their own 
as ' clean entertainment ' ; or by such an argument as 
4 any fundamentally clean book that tends to form the 
reading habit and engender within the reader a love 
of books is well worth its place in literature * ; and 
they recognise as admirable classes B and C : 

' The bestseller ranges from rotten primitive stuff 
like The Sheik and some of Hutchinson's books, to 
such fine, delicate work as The Bridge of San Luis Rey 
or The Constant Nymph, and even to writers like 
Galsworthy and Bennett/ 

While C admire B, or would like to write like the 
class A type of novelist, and Bi and 62 also admire 
such highbrow novelists as Stendhal, Proust, 
Dostoievsky, Henry James, Conrad, Lawrence, and 
Joyce, and claim to have been influenced by them, 
83 and 64 admire indiscriminately A and B novelists. 
As one might expect, the single representative of A 
passes only his own kind, but for a reason to be 
noticed later has a certain admiration for the great 
bestsellers. 

Again, D and C miss the point of Q. 7 : 

' I think the story magazines are having, on the 
whole, a good effect on public taste. There are in 



AUTHOR AND READER 47 

England practically no magazines that have to be 
excluded from decent households and their general tone 
is definitely good/ 
Or even : 

' I think that story magazines are having a very 
good effect on public taste. The technical level of the 
short story is far higher in England now than it was 
twenty years ago/ 
And: 

4 Story magazines do no harm to the novel-market. 
They educate public taste/ 
While an American bestseller declares : 

' I believe that anything that terids to form the 
reading habit must eventually improve the public 
taste (since the inquiring and voracious mind of man 
is not for long satisfied by an unvaried diet and in 
searching for new sustenance will seek a superior 
rather than an inferior pabulum), increase the demand 
for reading matter and, therefore, exercise a bene- 
ficial effect upon the novel market/ 

The only dissentient voice comes from a writer 
who won her public by historical novels of some 
substance (founded on research) : 

* The magazine story is almost without exception a 
commercial article. Manufactured to a formula 
those stories that show any art are seldom placed in 
magazines/ 

Bestsellers of class D have a buying public of a 
quarter or half a million, and in some cases of a 
million ; of C, upwards of a hundred thousand ; of 
B, twenty to thirty thousand ; and of A a steady three 
thousand, with greater sales of five, ten, or even 
fifteen thousand. 30 



48 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

Answers to Qs. 1-6 and Q. 10 throw considerable 
light on why novels are read to-day. Not to go deeper 
than necessary, people in general read novels for one 
or more of the following reasons : 

1 . To pass time not unpleasantly. 

2. To obtain vicarious satisfaction or compensation 

for life. 

3. To obtain assistance in the business of living. 

4. To enrich the quality of living by extending, 

deepening, refining, co-ordinating experience. 

It is generally recognised that the universal need to 
read something when not actively employed has been 
created by the conditions of modern life. The notes 
made by Mr. George Sturt 31 of the changes he himself 
has witnessed since 1884 in the lives of both town and 
country workers go a good way towards explaining this. 
He writes in detail of craftsmen for whose personal 
skill the introduction of modern methods has sub- 
stituted machine-tending. He observes how the come- 
liness has been taken from the peasant's life and his 
traditional way of living broken down, the ordinary 
worker everywhere losing the delight that a really 
interesting and varied round of duties gave. The old 
order made reading to prevent boredom unnecessary, 
whereas the narrowing down of labour that specialisa- 
tion has produced has changed the working day from 
a sequence of interests to a repetition of mechanical 
movements of both body and mind. Analogous 
changes have been going on higher up in the social 
scale, so that life for all classes tends now to fall 
sharply into two sections : the hours (far fewer than 
formerly 32 ) taken up by occupational activities, ex- 



AUTHOR AND READER 49 

hausting and yet not generally possible to take pleasure 
in, and the increased leisure for rest and amusement. 
In 1 909 a critic in the New Age (an advanced weekly) 
recounted some observations he had made of Mudie's 
subscribers (then exclusively upper middle-class) 
* rarely capable of enthusiasm.' ' Why then/ he 
asked, ' does the backbone put itself to the trouble of 
reading current fiction ? The answer is that it does so, 
not with any artistic, spiritual, moral, or informative 
purpose, but simply in order to pass time. It prefers 
novelists among artists because the novel gives the 
longest surcease from ennui at the least expenditure 
of time and money/ ^ This is now a fair account 
of the reading habits of all classes, which have called 
forth a new kind of literature the magazine and the 
corresponding bestseller, designed to be read in the 
face of lassitude and nervous fatigue. 

The extent to which this influences writers is shown 
by this extract from a bestseller's reply to the question- 
naire (he gives the total sales of his books in England 
and America as eight millions up to the end of 1929, 
his works selling a million copies a year). 

At present I am reading a very interesting history of the 
genesis and development of motion pictures, which contains 
a most illuminating suggestion of the attitude of the general 
public toward entertainment, in which category fiction falls. 
It has been discovered through repeated experiments that 
pictures that require thought for appreciation have invariably 
been box-office failures. The general public does not wish 
to think. This fact, probably more than any other, accounts 
for the success of my stories, for without this specific idea in 
mind I have, nevertheless, endeavoured to make all my de- 
scriptions so clear that each situation could be visualised 
readily by any reader precisely as I saw it. ... I have 



50 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

evolved, therefore, a type of fiction that may be read with 
the minimum of mental effort. 

He adds : 

I have learned from what is known in this country as 
' fan ' mail that my readers are to be found in every walk of 
life. A great many professional people enjoy my books 
because they offer the mental relaxation which they require 
of fiction. 

Under the head of ' mental relaxation ' may be 
included detective stories, the enormous popularity 
of which (like the passion for solving cross-word 
puzzles) seems to show that for the reader of to-day a 
not unpleasurable way of relaxing is to exercise the 
ratiocinative faculties on a minor non-personal 
problem. It is chiefly this use of fiction that has 
commercialised novel-writing, so that famous authors 
of bestsellers are run as limited companies with a 
factory called * Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.* or 
* Elinor Glyn Ltd.' The effect of an inordinate addic- 
tion to light reading was known (mainly by repute) to 
the nineteenth century; it came under the head of 
' dissipation,' M and to read novels, as to drink wine, 
in the morning was far into the century a sign of vice, 
while to devote a fixed time to solid reading was a 
matter of conscience. So a self-denying age guarded 
its sobriety, but there is no such restriction now even 
among the professionally cultured. It is quite common 
to meet educated people who confess to having eight 
or more hours a day to spend in reading what else 
can one do? and by reading they mean novels, 
periodicals, and perhaps * belles-lettres/ They will 
explain that they can read anything from the Strand 
Magazine to Point Counter Point, and if questioned 



AUTHOR AND READER 51 

admit to reading indiscriminately and rarely if ever 
re-reading. A suggestion that some novels are 
intrinsically more worth reading than the rest calls 
forth the reaction against an implied ' highbrow ' 
attitude, yet a similar assertion about poetry will not be 
questioned, for though poetry is no longer read it has 
a traditional sanction. The feeling that fiction is only 
meant to entertain (in the sense in which the popular 
novelist above uses * entertainment ') explains such a 
common complaint as : * Virginia Woolf ? Why, you 
can't read her unless your mind is absolutely fresh ! * 
It is relevant to note here that the author of detective 
novels consulted receives letters chiefly from * school- 
boys, scientific men, clergymen, lawyers, and business 
men generally,' and adds * I think I am read more by 
the upper classes than the lower classes and by men 
more than women/ The social orders named here as 
forming the backbone of the detective-story public 
are those who in the last century would have been the 
guardians of the public conscience in the matter of 
mental self-indulgence. 

The second reason accounts for the vast sales of the 
great bestsellers in contrast to the moderate success 
of merely popular novels. An illusion of life so vivid 
that one can be persuaded of its reality is given by 
fiction alone ; poets, painters, and composers are not 
known to receive ' fan mail * on the strength of their 
work ; the stage and cinema can compete, but their 
attraction tends to centre on the personality of the 
actor or * star * irrespective of the plot. It is wish- 
fulfilment in various forms that the modern bestseller 
and magazine story provide, though it is never quite 
so simple as this suggests. Take the case of the novel 



52 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

which deals in romantic action : the classical instance 
The Three Musketeers at once springs to mind. Its 
modern equivalent, Beau Geste and its successors, 
have sold half a million each since Beau Geste appeared 
in 1924. But whereas Dumas has commonly served 
as a stage in the normal boy's development, the works 
of P. C. Wren are now the reading of adults, for whom 
they are doing something more than kill time or 
assuage a craving for adventure. They serve to 
stabilise a certain attitude, confirm certain prejudices, 
as the following extracts from their author's reply 
show: 

The bulk of my readers are the cleanly-minded virile 
outdoor sort of people of both sexes, and the books are 
widely read in the Army, the Navy, the Universities, the 
Public Schools, and the Clubs. . . . My favourite reading 
is the memoirs of people who have done things, and I admit, 
without shame, that my favourite novelists are Hergesheimer, 
A. E. W. Mason, Conrad and R. L. Stevenson. . . . 
Although I now make a good many thousands per annum, I 
still am not a ' professional novelist,' nor, as I have said, a 
long-haired literary cove. I prefer the short-haired executive 
type. 

When the round well-varnished tale is finished, I send it 
to ' Mr. John Murray.' The late Sir John Murray, Colonel 
John Murray, Lord Gorell and the other partners, are sports- 
men and gentlemen who have somehow strayed into the 
muddy paths of commerce, and somehow contrived to remain 
sportsmen and gentlemen and jolly good business men as well. 

The novels of Scott and Dumas had a different 
mentality behind them, that might perhaps not absurdly 
be described as cultured ; at least it could be said of 
them that their authors did not despise the profession 
of letters and that what they wrote was not unrelated 
to literature. The difference between literature and 



AUTHOR AND READER 53 

* clean entertainment * for * the cleanly-minded virile 
sort of people ' with ' tone definitely good ' lies 
perhaps as much in the difference between the nine- 
teenth-century public and the public of the twentieth 
century as in the novelists themselves. This is brought 
out in the reply to Q. 2 of another bestseller (whose 
books sell a million copies a year) : 

The continued success of my books may lie in the fact 
that I write them primarily to please myself, upon the theory 
that I am a normal man and, therefore, that that which 
entertains me will entertain millions of others similar to me. 
My mind, being slightly impatient as I conceive the modern 
mind to be, tires of long descriptions, of minute character 
delineations, of lengthy moralising and of tiresome descrip- 
tions of scenery; therefore, in fiction, I desire action and so, 
in my novels, I subordinate all else to action. 

My success may be also partially attributable to the fact 
that I make no conscious effort to write down to one class 
or up to another, but to use English, whether good or bad, 
that is easily understandable, and to draw action pictures 
which permit my reader to visualise scenes without great 
effort. 

The nature of that which entertains him and millions 
similar to him is significant : 

It was my custom as a child, and in fact it has been all my 
life, to day-dream romantic stories filled with action and 
adventure. Many of my written stories are based upon 
these. What suggested them, I do not know. 

It is this general atmosphere of plausibility about even my 
most highly imaginative stories that seems to arouse and hold 
the interest of the reader, a fact which is based upon the 
theory that readers enjoy those situations in which they may 
readily visualise themselves as taking a principal and heroic 
part. 

The form of self-indulgence specified here 36 
accounts for the immense success of novels like The 



54 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

Way of an Eagle, The Sheik, The Blue Lagoon, a more 
detrimental diet than the detective story in so far as a 
habit of fantasying will lead to maladjustment in actual 
life. 

Ten of the fourteen novelists advertised by the 3d. 
circulating library on p. 8 specialise in fantasy-spinning. 
The titles of the works of two of them are re- 
presentative : Sweet Life, The Desert Dreamers, The 
Lure of the Desert, Sands of Gold, The City of Palms, 
Wild Heart of Youth, The Mirage of the Dawn, The 
Golden "Journey, East o* the Sun, The Barbarian Lover, 
The Vision of Desire, The Moon out of Reach, The Lamp 
of Fate, The Splendid Folly, The House of Dreams-Come- 
True. The windows of any bookshop and newsagent 
are full of two-shilling novels with similar titles. The 
hero of The Barbarian Lover constantly declares 
1 It's the big, primitive things that count/ and 
demands that his aristocratic fiancee should * live a 
primitive life ' with him in Rhodesia. When she 
refuses he asks incredulously, * Do you mean that 
you're not willing to come with me into the desert ? 
... I thought we should go together, man and mate, 
out into the wide, clean spaces of the world, and 
build our life there as men and women have done 
before, and make a big thing of it/ This is a fair 
specimen of the kind of fiction classed as day-dream- 
ing. (Cf. too in this connection the romantic names on 
suburban gate-posts.) Since all the great names in 
popular fiction of this generation and many of those 
in the last generation (Marie Corelli, Florence Barclay, 
Ethel M. Dell, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Gene Stratton 
Porter) have been made on this kind of fiction, we 
have here important evidence of the way in which the 



AUTHOR AND READER 55 

leisure of the majority is being used and is likely to 
be used in the future. 

The cinema, one notices, provides the same satis- 
faction, and in such a form as might cut out the best- 
seller if it were not for two considerations which 
together are likely to make the popular novelist's 
livelihood safe for at least a generation or two. True, 
the cinema has several advantages over the novel : 
the reader has not to make the effort of translating 
words into images that is done for him even more 
effectively than by the author of Tarzan just quoted ; 
moreover, attending the cinema, like listening to the 
gramophone or wireless, is a passive and social amuse- 
ment, whereas, since reading aloud in the family circle 
is no longer practised, fiction is a solitary pleasure, 
and the public to-day prefers communal to private 
pastimes. Indeed, it is only the exceptional character 
that can tolerate solitude and silence, distressing to 
modern nerves. The British Broadcasting Company 
reports that in 1930 every other home had a wireless 
set, 36 which in practice means not that a nation of 
music-lovers has sprung up, but that in any town two 
out of three houses one passes in the evening are 
reading and talking with the support of a loud 
speaker. 37 On the other hand, there is first of all the 
acquired reading habit whose strength has been 
previously demonstrated. The hold it has on the 
present generation, brought up on a diet of morning 
and evening newspaper, magazine and circulating 
library, is remarked in a speech made by a former 
Minister of Education in 1927 (a) : 

(a) Lord Eustace Percy to the Joint Session of the Associated Booksellers 
and National Book Council, July i6th, 1927. 



56 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

Our purpose is not to create or stimulate the reading habit. 
Nearly every one in this country already has the habit and 
has it very badly. It has been discovered that the greatest 
* mind opiate ' in the world is carrying the eye along a cer- 
tain number of printed lines in succession. . . . The habit 
of reading is(one of the most interesting psychological features 
of the present day. Discomfort and exhaustion seem only 
to increase the need for the printed word. A friend, in de- 
scribing the advance of one of the columns in East Africa 
during the war, has remarked how his men, sitting drenched 
and almost without food round the camp fire, would pass 
from hand to hand a scrap of a magazine co* jr, in order that 
each man might rest his eyes for a moment on the printed 
word. One of the great evils of present-day reading is that 
it discourages thought. 

Similarly it was noticed in France that men coming 
from the trenches who had been deprived of reading 
matter for some short while would, however weary, 
seize on any kind of book or periodical or even a 
piece of newspaper to satisfy the same craving. This 
the film still more the ' talkie/ which does not even 
offer captions is unlikely to displace for at least 
another generation, though the increase in the rate of 
change of habits that the last thirty years shows makes 
even this not impossible. The effect of listening-in 
alone might be to substitute for a strong mechanical 
habit a stronger passive habit, as it has done in the 
typical Middle Western community discussed in 
Middletown, where the investigators were told ' I use 
time evenings listening in that I used to spend in 
reading/ It is more possible that (besides the novel 
for highbrows) newspapers and magazines might 
remain to satisfy a persistent reading habit and the 
popular novel ultimately lapse. Mr. Compton Mac- 



AUTHOR AND READER 57 

kenzie, in answering Q. 4, puts forward some 
reasons for adopting this hypothesis : 

This is a particularly difficult period for the professional 
novelist because the weekly succession of isolated master- 
pieces by brilliant amateurs is almost more than he can stand 
up to. Scott and Dickens never had to read the publisher's 
advertisements in the Sunday Times and the Observer. I 
have counted as many as fifteen works of genius published 
in one week. Allowing for the enthusiastic exaggeration of 
jaded reviewers who are always apt to overpraise a first novel, 
we may admit that a large number of really good novels are 
published every year ; but if one studies the literary output it 
soon becomes evident that scarcely one of these brilliant 
creatures possesses any staying power. Two or three books 
are produced from personal experience and then he seems to 
fade out. I imagine that during the next fifty years or so 
the novel will only be kept alive by these more or less isolated 
efforts. I am convinced that the day of the professional 
novelist is dead, for as soon as he has done one or two books 
that neither the cinema nor wireless can do better, he will 
not be wanted as a mere entertainer, because there will be 
enough, and too much, to entertain the world, and his only 
chance will be to become a journalist and play his part in the 
ephemeral entertainment that the increasing rapidity of 
existence is already demanding. Even now a clever young 
man writes a couple of novels as a way to join the staff of 
the Daily Mail or Daily Express. Novel writing will soon 
be nothing but a literary apprenticeship. 

Nevertheless the chief reason in favour of the best- 
seller's survival is that it does provide compensation 
for life more effectively than the cinema does at 
present or is ever likely to do. 38 The substitution 
for village and small town communities of cities 
composed of units whose main contact with each 
other outside the home is in the dance-hall, the cinema, 
the theatre, social but not co-operative amusements, 39 



58 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

has left only fiction to fill the gap. It offers ideal 
companionship to the reader by its uniquely compel- 
ling illusion of a life in which sympathetic characters 
of a convincing verisimilitude touch off the warmer 
emotional responses. Quotations from readers' letters 
that D novelists gave in answer to Q. 10 show that 
fiction for very many people is a means of easing a 
desolating sense of isolation and compensates for the 
poverty of their emotional lives : 

You have the power by your exquisite sympathy of making 
your characters live. They become one's friends. 

All the people who live in the pages of your work are so 
intensely real. One knows them as friends. 

I am not at all a sentimental person, but I love novels like 
yours, which take one among big-hearted people who live 
interesting lives and make their corner of the world happier 
than it might otherwise be. One reads numbers of clever 
novels, perhaps more than once; but on closing the pages 
one forgets that the people exist. They have served their 
turn. But one by no means forgets yours. They are real, 
very lovable people who stay by one as friends and give one 
real help. 

Your characters are so human that they live with me as 
friends. . . . They are all real men, with real men's tempta- 
tions and difficulties, and the way in which they face these 
temptations leaves a very deep impression. 

and one of the most popular women writers reported 
simply ' Of course they all say " How real ! " ' while 
another, not much less popular, replied : 

I imagine the bulk of my readers to be fairly simple people 
(mostly women) who want to read of romance in a form 
not incompatible with their own opportunities. People 
usually give as their kind reasons for liking my work (a) That 
I am * human/ (b) Seem to * understand.' 



AUTHOR AND READER 59 

This readiness to respond to 4 characters ' will bear 
some investigation. It almost entirely explains the 
undoubted popular appeal which Shakespeare makes, 
even to an uneducated public incapable of reading 
poetry. The fascination his plays have had for various 
bestsellers is notorious and genuine ; for them, 
indeed for most people, Shakespeare is the ' creator ' 
of characters, and they translate his dramas into 
novels, so that nearly all Shakespearian criticism is 
a discussion of the supposititious lives of the dramatis 
personae. This kind of interest leads critics to compare 
the merits of novelists by the size of the portrait 
gallery each has given to the world. 

Apparently all a novelist need do is to provide bold 
outlines, and the reader will co-operate to persuade 
himself that he is in contact with ' real people.' 
Novelists of class D, who both share their readers' 
tastes and exploit them (even if unconsciously), are 
aware of this : 

To my mind an author can have no greater compliment 
paid to him or to her than to be told that his or her characters 
appear to the reader real people. I have, in fact, written many 
stories with no plot or outline in mind, starting out with a 
character and following him rather than leading him through 
an entire story, letting him make his contacts with other 
characters and introducing him into situations after the 
manner of real life. 

I prefer to be seized by a character [rather than by a theme] 
or a purely character-situation that allows scope for develop- 
ment along several different lines. Such a book may be faulty 
inform, but its elasticity may give it a more spontaneous (if 
untidy) effect of life. My chief and all-absorbing concern 
is for the characters : to see them vividly, to feel them from 
many points of view (their own and the other characters'), 



60 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

to convey them to the readers not by analysis but by direct 
emotional contagion. 

And the last-quoted writer gives the reason of her 
readers' appreciation as amounting to * Power to 
create characters that live and remain with them as 
friends, so that they constantly write about them to 
me as if they're alive and ask for more news of 
them 1 ' 

It is not of course only the bestseller who could 
say, as one does, ' The creating of characters in my 
world remains a constant source of fascination to me ' ; 
Jane Austen is known to have taken a similar delight 
in her * people.' But the highbrow novelist who 
' creates ' characters at all is apt to produce person- 
alities that do not obey the literary agent's rule (* The 
principal characters must be likeable. They .must be 
human '), that do not lend themselves to fantasying 
but cause disturbing repercussions in the reader's 
emotional make-up. Worse still, it is a fact that many 
highbrow novelists do not choose even to outline 
plausible characters, and this expectation of meeting 
recognisable people in fiction, amounting now to a 
conviction that the novelist's first duty is to provide 
them, is generally at the bottom of failure to respond 
to the finer novels. The confusion of fiction with life 
and the demand that fiction should compensate for 
life prevents enjoyment of Emily Bronte and Jane 
Austen, among others (Jane Eyre was admitted to 
be literature long before Wuthering Heights), and 
nowadays of D. H. Lawrence and T. F. Powys ; it 
causes the resentful bewilderment one notices in the 
objections to such novelists as Virginia Woolf and 
Henry James, who do not offer anything in the nature 



AUTHOR AND READER 61 

of * character/ The popular author in class D quoted 
above writes in answer to Q. 8 : 

Jane Austen is antipathetic to me: but I admired Char- 
lotte Bronte when younger. Of comparative moderns I 
admire Hugh Walpole and Anne Douglas Sedgwick. 
Virginia Woolf fascinates but irritates me, an effect I find 
she has on a good many readers. Her genius is of course 
undeniable. 

This may be due to the demands Mrs. Woolf 
makes on the reader in the way of mental alertness, 
suppleness, and concentration, but assume for the 
moment on the strength of the last sentence that this is 
not so. The reader not prepared to readjust himself 
to the technique of Mrs. Dalloway or To the Lighthouse 
will get very little return for the energy he must lay 
out in wrestling with those involved periods. He is 
repaid by none of the obvious satisfactions he expects 
from a novel no friendly characters, no reassuring 
conviction that life is as he wants to believe it, no glow 
of companionship or stirring relation of action. All 
he gets is an impression of sensuous beauty as his eye 
helplessly picks out clumps of words without clearly 
following the sense; it is true this is all the average 
reader of poetry or Shakespeare gets (the latter throw- 
ing in * character * and ' action ' too), still he knows 
this is the function of poetry and demands no more. 
But he refuses to allow a novel to act on him as ' poetry/ 
hence his annoyance. He is dimly aware of having 
missed the point and feels cheated, or at best im- 
pressed but irritated like the authoress just cited. 
The same holds for the failure to read Henry James, 
except that as most readers are unable to stand the strain 
of his abstract, tortuous idiom, they give up at once. 



62 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

In fact, the ordinary reader is content with the 
general directions for what his literary training re- 
cognises as appropriate, and his imagination will do 
the rest. The bestseller who has collected for her 
4 Indian * novels an enthusiastic public of a quarter of 
a million who write to tell her how ' real ' and ' true 
to life ' her Indian characters are, admits in some 
bewilderment : ' I don't know how or why I am so 
successful in getting the Indian quality of my characters 
so true. I have really known very few Indians : one 
didn't know them in my day. It is some sort of 
sympathetic insight that guides me and guides me 
right.' The same public leaves Passage to India (where 
instead of the Kipling native and the right kind of 
Anglo-Indian there is evident a first-class critical 
mind at work on the human situation) on the shelves 
of the libraries ; the book is felt to be unpleasant.' 

But there is something else to the great names of 
popular fiction Marie Corelli, Florence Barclay, 
Ethel M. Dell, Gene Stratton Porter, Hall Caine 
than sympathetic characters, a stirring tale, and absence 
of the disquieting. Even the most critical reader who 
brings only an ironical appreciation to their work 
cannot avoid noticing a certain power, the secret of 
their success with the majority. Bad writing, false 
sentiment, sheer silliness, and a preposterous narrative 
are all carried along by the magnificent vitality of the 
author, as they are in Jane Eyre. Charlotte BrontS, 
one cannot but feel after comparing her early work 
with modern bestsellers, was only unlike them in 
being fortunate in her circumstances, which gave her 
a cultured background, and in the age in which she 
lived, which did not get between her and her spon- 



AUTHOR AND READER 63 

taneities. It is this power that the representative of 
class A recognises when he says that ' The Rosary will 
probably live, 40 because its power is very uncommon 
as uncommon, on its lower plane, as the power of 
Wuthering Heights] and refers with respect to ' Mrs. 
Barclay, who was undoubtedly a great writer on her 
plane Shakespeare of the servants' hall. Her power 
is terrific at any rate in The Rosary. I had infinitely 
rather have written The Rosary than The Forsyte Saga, 
for example/ This is the fascinated envy of an over- 
intellectual novelist for the lower organism that 
exudes vital energy as richly as a manure heap. Un- 
fortunately the power of these writers is not harnessed 
in the service of literature ; they are what their age 
has made them, and though ' education ' might have 
turned Marie Corelli into a Mrs. Humphry Ward 
or Gene Stratton Porter into an H. G. Wells, yet no 
' education ' could have given Mrs. Humphry Ward's 
novels the qualities which make Maria Edgeworth's 
best work interesting to the highbrow of to-day or 
could have made Mr. Wells' novels as acceptable to 
such a reader as Mrs. Gaskell's. Mrs. Gaskell and 
Maria Edgeworth were not geniuses, they had nothing 
like the natural talent and range of interests of Mr. 
Wells and Mrs. Humphry Ward, they have very little 
of the emotional drive and luxuriant vitality of Marie 
Corelli and Gene Stratton Porter, but they had the 
inestimable benefits of a culture such as no modern 
writer is born to but must struggle for as best he can, 
unaided, or else accept the materials the age offers. 
The materials that the contemporary bestseller finds to 
hand have been discussed ih Chapter II., and to these 
it is necessary to add the idiom and kinds of appeal 



64 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

exploited by modern advertising and the cinema and 
by religious organisations such as the Y.M.C.A. and 
the Church Publicity Section (a) y and Rotary. 

What these highly popular novelists have won their 
reputation by, in fact, is this terrific vitality set to 
turn the machinery of morality. In a novel by Marie 
Corelli, Hall Caine, Florence Barclay, Gene Stratton 
Porter, the author is genuinely preoccupied with 
ethical problems, whatever side attractions there may 
be in the way of unconscious pornography and 
excuses for day-dreaming. (One has only to read 
their memoirs and biographies 41 to realise this, and 
to realise also that they were in many ways remark- 
able persons.) Unfortunately, since the author, for 
reasons already explained, has been educated neither 
in thinking nor in feeling, the moral passion ex- 
hibited is fatally crude ; fatally only by the standards 
of the sophisticated, however, for there is a large 
and increasing public of suitable readers. By a 
* suitable ' reader is meant one who can read a novel 
in the spirit in which it was written, because at a 
corresponding stage of development to the author. 
The Rosary, The Christian, The Sorrows of Satan, The 
Harvester, have aroused such torrents of enthusiasm 
because they excite in the ordinary person an emotional 
activity for which there is no scope in his life. These 
novels will all be found to make play with the key 
words of the emotional vocabulary which provoke the 
vague warm surges of feeling associated with religion 
and religion substitutes e.g. life, death, love, good, 
evil, sin, home, mother, noble, gallant, purity, honour. 
These responses can be torched off with a dangerous 

(a) Which produces the Wayside Pulpit mottoes. 



AUTHOR AND READER 65 

ease every self-aware person finds that he has to 
train himself from adolescence in withstanding them 
and there is evidently a vast public that derives great 
pleasure from reacting in this way. This vocabulary as 
used by bestsellers is not quite the everyday one ; it is 
analogous to a suit of Sunday clothes, carrying with it 
a sense of larger issues ; it gives the reader a feeling 
of being helped, of being in touch with ideals. 42 
As Mr. P. C. Wren writes (not ironically) : * The 
great bestseller contains a searching appeal to the 
honest simple feelings and " all that is best " in the 
great heart of the great public.' In a sense this is 
true. Without playing upon those readily released 
responses a novelist to-day can hardly hope to reach 
the great public (unless he has discovered how to tap 
the newspaper appeals e.g. Nat Gould, the racing 
news ; Edgar Wallace, crime). The essential features 
of this success are summarised in The Life of Florence 
L. Barclay By One of Her Daughters : 

She was out to supply her fellow men with joy, refresh- 
ment, inspiration. She was not out to make art for art's sake, 
or to perform a literary tour de force, or to rival the makers 
of fiction of the past. The busy men and women who form 
the majority of the reading public, and who read fiction by 
way of relaxation and enjoyment, do not desire to have pro- 
ductions of literary * art ' supplied to them, that their critical 
faculties may be exercised and their minds educated to a 
precise valuation of dramatic form, powerful realism, high 
tragedy. They ask merely to be pleased, rested, interested, 
amused, inspired to a more living faith in the beauty of human 
affection and the goodness of God. 

The age of Marie Corelli and Hall Caine, for 
reasons that will be discussed in Part II., was the first 
to hit on the bestseller formula. In the second genera- 



66 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

tion their post-war successors have taken over their 
evangelism and work the spiritual-emotional responses 
in a more dubious fashion. The high-level reader of 
Marie Corelli and Mrs. Barclay is impelled to laugh, 
so ridiculously inadequate to the issues raised is the 
equipment of the mind that resolutely tackles them, 
and, on the other hand, so absurdly out of proportion 
is the energy expended to the objects that aroused it 
(for instance, in Marie Corelli 's novels, female smoking 
and low-cut gowns). But the moral passion, though 
it may be a nuisance, is at least a respectable one ; at 
worst it could be accused of promoting the com- 
placent virtue that infuriates the ungodly. The 
writings of Gilbert Frankau and Warwick Deeping 
(to take the most striking cases of contemporary best- 
sellers) are not merely doing this. A few extracts 
will make this plain. They are representative of the 
tone of the novels from which they come : 

* That's the new Cenotaph/ said Cranston; and he un- 
covered his head. . . . ' My men ! ' he thought, simply as 
a child; and again, visualising their haggard faces, * my 
men ! * (a) 

All the way from Bloomsbury to Portland Place, that note, 
those unborn children beckoned to him : so that he under- 
stood, almost with the suddenness of revelation, his inward 
self; so that this subconscious need became, for the first time, 
conscious, a living force in his soul. * Art ! ' ran his revela- 
tion. * You console yourself with it, as a child consoles itself 
for unkindness with a toy. The woman of your first por- 
trait ! You prick yourself with her memory as a drug-fiend 
pricks himself with the morphia needle to forget that there 
can be no other woman, that you are what you are, a man reft 
of his life-force, no man at all/ (b) 

(a) Gilbert Frankau, Gerald Cranston's Lady (1923). 

(b) Gilbert Frankau, Life and Erica. 



AUTHOR AND READER 67 

For Sorrell still kept his trousers creased, nor had he 
reached that state of mind when a man can contemplate with 
unaffected naturalness the handling of his own luggage. 
There were still things he did and did not do. He was a 
gentleman. True, Society had come near to pushing him 
off the shelf of his class-consciousness into the welter of the 
casual and the unemployed, but, though hanging by his own 
hands, he had refused to drop. [He has accepted a post with 
an antique dealer.] ' He may want us to live over-over the 
shop/ * Over-over the shop.' Yes, the word had cost him 
an effort. * Captain Sorrell, M.C.' [' Before the war he had 
sat at a desk and helped to conduct a business.'] (a) 

This for the sensitive minority is no laughing 
matter : these novelists are read by the governing 
classes as well as by the masses, and they impinge 
directly on the world of the minority, menacing the 
standards by which they live. And whereas their 
forerunners were innocent of malice, devoting them- 
selves to assuring their readers of ' the beauty of 
human affection and the goodness of God/ these 
writers are using the technique of Marie Corelli and 
Mrs. Barclay to work upon and solidify herd prejudice 
and to debase the emotional currency by touching 
grossly on fine issues. In this, as we have noticed 
earlier, they are at one with their background. They 
also exhibit a persistent hostility to the world of 
letters which is quite unprecedented. 43 They are 
uneasily aware of the existence of other standards by 
which their work is despised, and they are not 
supported by the sense of vocation that accounts for 
the assurance of their forerunners. They are to be 
observed defending their own as in some way better 
or more genuine than mere * clever * work : 

(a) Warwick Deeping, Sorrell and Son (1925). 



68 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

Lance smiled; he was smiling at the Lance of yesterday, 
and looking with a ruthless self-knowledge at the Lance of 
to-morrow. * Till he took me in hand,' he reflected, * I was 
just damned clever, a precious young highbrow. I suppose 
he taught me to feel.' (a) 

After all, what was a burnt book at five and twenty? 
Better a burnt book at that age than a charred cleverness at 
five and forty. For if Lance was destined to write the great 
stuff that touches the heart of the world then he Lance 
must have the heart to do it. No use being just damned 
clever (b). 

Well, a good novel is real, far more significant than most 
of the highbrow stuff so called (c). 

and this sentiment has become common almost any 
copy of the more popular literary journals and story 
magazines will prove this. For example, Gilbert 
Frankau writing in the Daily Mail (1926) declares, 
* Authorship is not so much a function of the brain 
as it is of the heart. And the heart is a universal 
organ/ Similarly, bestsellers replied indignantly to 

Q-3' 

Even if many of them [bestsellers] are not works of art, 
they are on the whole (except the very bad ones) closer to 
the fundamentals of life and of romance than much of the 
cleverer stuff that springs mainly from the brain and so fails 
to reach the heart. 

Technique is not one of the living qualities and the novel 
is primarily concerned with life. The core quality of the 
born novelist is human> not literary. 

This antithesis between a novel of the heart and a 
novel of the brain .and the exaltation of the former at 
the expense of the latter is a noticeable feature of the 

(a) Warwick Deeping, Old Pybus (1928). (b) 

(c) Warwick Deeping, Sorrell and Son (1925). 



AUTHOR AND READER 69 

contemporary bestseller ; it is perhaps not surprising 
that the readers should share it. 

The reader of the great bestsellers goes to them 
partly to be confirmed in his prejudices and * uplifted/ 
as the novelist-hero of one of Mrs. Barclay's books 
explains : * " The thing of first importance is to 
uplift your readers; to raise their ideals; to leave 
them with a sense of hopefulness, which shall arouse 
within them a brave optimism such as inspired 
Browning's oft-quoted noble lines." ' The reader 
of the C class of novelists is looking for something 
in effect not so very different. It has been described 
earlier as desire to obtain assistance in the business 
of living, formerly the function of religion. Defoe's 
readers, for instance, untroubled by social problems 
and with a Puritan code behind them, only asked 
of the novel that it should reflect their own interests 
without conflicting with the demands of their morality. 
With the decline of religious authority and of the 
satisfaction obtainable from first-hand living the 
novel has come to mean a great deal more for all those 
in any way inclined to serious-mindedness. And as a 
result of the stratification of taste noticed earlier, this 
demand is met at different levels : the suitable reader of 
This Freedom and of The Middle of the Road and of 
Ann Veronica are alike in very little but a genuine sense 
of something wrong with the world. They expect the 
novelist to answer real questions (in the form of What 
should I ... ? and How should I . . . ? and Is it 
right to ... ?) in effect, to help them manage their 
lives by dramatising their problems and so offering a 
solution, by lending his support to their code of 
feeling and generally by expressing their own half- 



70 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

conscious or perplexed ' feelings about * Life. The 
case of The Middle of the Road illustrates this. First 
published in November 1922, it had been reprinted 
twenty-two times by February 1925; on the jacket 
of the uniform edition we read, ' In days to come Sir 
Philip will be remembered as a novelist of the people 
whose stories are imbued with sincerity and an 
optimism that the man in the street finds particularly 
comforting. He writes in and of a time when the 
world seems a little mad, and his sanity, his belief in 
the vast possibilities of his own age, and lastly his 
sympathy for and understanding of youth, make him 
a writer whose books are treasured by all who would 
know more intimately of the thoughts and ideals 
animating the rising generation.' The. novel deals 
with all the problems that might be supposed to have 
existed for the man in the street in the years im- 
mediately after the war, and the plot consists of a 
simple linking together of them the problems of 
France, Ireland, Germany, Russia, ex-service men, 
post-war morality, class-consciousness, marriage, 
family life, and socialism. The title is symbolic of the 
suggested solution. The work is done with a decent 
honesty ; so is the work of Mr. A. S. M. Hutchinson 
and Mr. H. G. Wells. These writers are all ' sincere/ 
that is convinced of the integrity of their intentions 
and useful as far as a certain lack of awareness and 
crudeness of sensibility allow. Indeed, it cannot be 
doubted that in various degrees they are making for 
enlightenment and, in a confused way, for more de- 
sirable (but not finer) feeling. They have a wide public 
and are doing a very necessary work in a society of 
dwellers on a rising series of plateaux, the work of 



AUTHOR AND READER 71 

keeping the lower levels posted with news of what is 
stirring higher up. The rate at which cultural news 
penetrates from one level to another is surprisingly 
slow : ideas and modes of feeling which were common- 
place among the intelligentsia before the war are still 
filtering through to the masses by way of the plays of 
Shaw and Galsworthy and the novels of Wells and Sir 
Philip Gibbs. Such work must be done in order that 
some kind of communication may be kept up, and only 
the novel can do it, for, as we have seen, the general 
reading public touches nothing more serious than the 
novel or newspaper. A pertinent objection is that the 
process necessitates a simplification of the issues that 
lets slip the essentials and leaves only some unmeaning 
and often misleading facts. Hence this kind of novel 
dies as soon as it has begun to date ; the work of Shaw 
and Wells and of their equivalents for the lower levels 
must be done afresh twice a generation Robert 
E/smere(a) and The Heavenly Twins (K) are long for- 
gotten though they caused mighty reverberations in 
their day, and as the A novelist observes, ' Tono-Bungay 
was an admirable book in 1912 or whenever it came 
out (c). It is now simply non-existent.' Non-existent, 
that is, for the intelligentsia, but one has only to in- 
spect a circulating library shelf full of D novels to see 
that the bestseller public would still consider Tono- 
Bungay and Ann Veronica * advanced ' and painfully 
'modern.' 44 The bestsellers of the intelligentsia are 
all too frequently of this class : The Way of All Flesh is 
now seen to have been not a great novel but a useful 
one, and its successor, Death of a Hero, is repeating 

(a) Mrs. Humphry Ward (1888). 

(b) Sarah Grand (1893). (f) Actually, 1909. 



72 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

Butler's services for a post-war generation very much 
more crudely. 

These authors who act as communication officers 
resent the associations attached to 4 bestseller/ and 
claim to be serious writers promoting the truth. This 
is from a reply to the questionnaire by a C novelist : 

Personally I object very strongly to being called a ' best- 
seller ' as though my novels owed their success to some trick 
of pleasing the popular mind. I am no more of a bestseller 
than John Galsworthy, Hugh Walpole, or the aijthors of such 
successful novels as The Constant Nymph^Portratt in a Mirror, 
All Quiet on the Western Front \ The Bridge of San Luis Rey 
or Sorrel/ and Son, to name a few recent successes. And you 
will see by that short list that the reading public buys or mostly 
borrows books that cannot come under any definite descrip- 
tion such as * mawkish sentiment,' * romance,' or ' realism.' 
My own view is that such freak sales as those of The Sheik 
are not representative of the general reading public of average 
intelligence a public which is steadily growing larger and 
more critical. 

The moderate success of my own novels, none of which 
has attained a freak sale, is due I believe to my interest in 
contemporary life and post-war problems with which I have 
dealt sincerely and sympathetically with a fair amount of 
experience among different types of humanity in England 
and Europe. For instance, my most successful novel, The 
Middle of the Road, which has sold 97,000 copies, deals with 
the problem of the ex-officer and the conditions of life after 
the war in England, Ireland, France, Germany, and Russia. 
I suppose people read it because they wanted to know certain 
things I happened to be able to tell them, and because I drama- 
tised this post-war world and tried to show the way out from 
hatred and conflict. Most of my novels, indeed all of them 
except one (I mean those written after the war), have been a 
kind of social history, revealing as far as I could the thoughts 
and character and difficulties and problems of the younger 
crowd to-day and their challenge to the old traditions. I 



AUTHOR AND READER 73 

never think of my public when I am writing a novel, nor do 
I modify my views or style to please those whom I imagine 
to be my readers. I just try to tell my story and get as much 
truth into it as happens to be in my own mind and mood. As 
it happens, I get large numbers of letters from my readers, 
and they are of all classes and types, both men and women 
ex-service men, miners, settlers in the Dominions, city clerks, 
professors, scientists, students, the mothers of the younger 
generation, the fathers of grown-up daughters, the daughters 
themselves, American university girls, German officers, 
British officers, and all sorts of people worrying about modern 
ideas and their own attitudes to life. 

I am honestly convinced that there is a very great reading 
public at the present time eager to read any novel which 
reveals or seems to reveal some key to the riddle of the human 
mind, which draws the veil aside from some aspect of life, 
which unlocks secret cupboards, and which gives them a sense 
of getting closer to truth. The younger crowd will not 
shirk any kind of coarseness as in All Quiet on the Western 
Front if it seems to bring them nearer to things they want to 
know this * truth ' for which they are looking. 

It has still to be shown where the literary novel 
(class B) and the highbrow reader come in. In reading 
any novel one is for the time being living at the level of 
the writer ; one can with justice say ' This is how life 
appears to him, these are his interests, this is the nature 
of his sensibility/ And because of the vivid reality of 
fiction the novel takes its place eventually in the body 
of one's experience (one can see this process at work 
in the unconscious testimonials on p. 58). It would 
seem desirable that an influence so highly formative 
should not be abused ; some evidence has been offered 
to show that at present in its better-known forms it is 
not being handled to beneficial ends. The best that 
the novel can do, it may be suggested, is not to offer a 



74 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

refuge from actual life but to help the reader to deal 
less inadequately with it; the novel can deepen, 
extend, and refine experience by allowing the reader to 
live at the expense of an unusually intelligent and 
sensitive mind, by giving him access to a finer code than 
his own. But this, we have seen, the popular novels of 
the age do not do. On the contrary, they substitute an 
emotional code which, as Part II. will try to show, is 
actually inferior to the traditional code of the illiterate 
and which helps to make a social atmosphere un- 
favourable to the aspirations of the minority. They 
actually get in the way of genuine feeling and 
responsible thinking by creating cheap mechanical 
responses and by throwing their weight on the side 
of social, national, and herd prejudices. The most 
popular contemporary fiction, it has been shown, 
unfits its readers for any novel that demands readjust- 
ment. 45 Take a couple of quotations in answer to Q. i o 
from D novelists' readers : 

I've read on and off such a lot of morbid modern analytical 
stuff that your books come to me like a breath of your own 
heather and pines. There is a saneness, a wholesome sin- 
cerity about them a tonic effect that no mere clever novel 
can produce. 

It is pure mental refreshment to read a book of yours: 
the rightness of everything as against they^r; one gets in so 
many modern books that are supposed to be good. 

These people clearly mistake the relief of meeting 
the expected, and being given the desired picture of 
life, for the exhilarating shock that a novel coming from 
a first-class fully-aware mind gives. But take a more 
subtle case. The intelligent educated reader who 
happens not to have given himself an explicitly 



AUTHOR AND READER 75 

literary training (and the bulk of the cultured class are 
now of this kind) is in the same plight. A letter re- 
ceived from such a reader explains 

what the cheaper forms of literature really do achieve for 
those to whom they appeal. (Speaking as one of the herd to 
whom Priestley and Walpole have meant a good deal, these 
last five years, and Eliot and Lawrence practically nil, and 
who can quite honestly read P. G. Wodehouse with profit) I 
am not sure that you do not underestimate the extent to 
which the existence of any real channel of ' communication ' 
between any artist and his public depends on his managing a 
symbolisation of something which was previously the property 
of that public: in this sense the crime of 4 giving the public 
what it wants * has another and not necessarily evil meaning 
(though this does not justify the usual or Northcliffe idea of 
doing so). I think the intrinsic qualities of a work of art are 
impotent unless they can symbolise, reflect, and focus in a 
convenient form, something that is already to some extent 
present in the mind of the man who hears, sees, or reads the 
work. Thus any art that I appreciate appeals because it 
symbolises (not necessarily formulates explicitly) something 
that is already in my fund of experience. That is why a 
writer like Walpole, who is probably not sensitive to more 
than the common doings of rather common people, is to me 
a very great man, whose greatness is never really likely to be 
approached by artists whose work can only symbolise, or evoke 
the response of, a sensitivity that I and the vast majority have 
never experienced. I have been enormously impressed by 
Priestley's latest book because, I think, it succeeds in sym- 
bolising, and thus coheres and concentrates, some knowledge 
I already had in a dim and confused way, e.g. that most 
people, as uneducated as myself, are a curious mixture of the 
comic, the pathetic, and the tragic, are moved chiefly by 
little things of which they ought to take no notice, are pre- 
occupied constantly and frequently inspired or terrified, by 
the unnecessary, the trivial and the accidental, and have no 
conscious sense of values about anything, and most of all 
dislike trying to think about anything subtle. 



76 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

It is no fault of his but of his age. The literary 
novel, arranged not to disturb the prejudices of the 
educated, is providing him only with a variety of the 
bestseller. For the crude power of the bestseller the 
literary novelists substitute a more civilised tone ; the 
temperature of their writing is slightly below instead of 
a good deal above normal ; they deal in the right kind 
of humour (the Punch kind), and are the best fellows in 
the world. The arguments used by the correspondent 
above, that what these novelists do for him is essentially 
the same as what the ' artist ' does for the highbrow, 
will not bear consideration. To think of such works as 
The Forsyte Saga, Hans Frost, The Good Companions, No 
Love, The English Miss, Rogue Herries, Our Mr. 
Dormer (a], and then of the living achievements of con- 
temporary novelists Sons and Lovers, Ulysses, To the 
Lighthouse, Mr. Wes ton's Good Wine, Passage to India, 
St. Mawr(b\ is to realise this. A convincing com- 
parison can only be made in terms of minute particulars 
and will be attempted in due course (in Part III.). It 
can only be said here that for the trained critic there 
can be no doubt that the first group betray either a 
faked sensibility or else a suggestive insensitiveness to 
the life round them, a lack of discrimination and the 
functioning of a second-rate mind. There is space here 
for but a few general indications : for instance, the 
quality of the irony exhibited in The Forsyte Saga com- 
pared with the free play of ironical intelligence in Passage 
to India and To the Lighthouse \ the highly charged 
pulsating prose of Virginia Woolf's later manner and 

(a) By John Galsworthy, Hugh Walpole, J. B. Priestley, David Garnett, 
R. H. Mottram, Hugh Walpole, R. H. Mottram. 

(b) By D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, T. F. Powys, 
. M. Forster, D. H. Lawrence. * 



AUTHOR AND READER 77 

the inefficient imitation of the same style in Hans Frost 
(where the pattern is reproduced inanely) ; the com- 
placent hearty knowingness of The Good Companions, 
coarse in texture, as against the superb command of 
life, serene yet compassionate, that informs T. F. 
Powys's writings ; the inert weight of Mr. Mottram's 
stolid optimism and the refreshing sardonic vigour of 
D. H. Lawrence ; the persuasive setting for a display 
of distinguished emotion which is after all never pro- 
duced in No Love in contrast to the illuminating 
subtlety with which E. M. Forster exposes the inner 
life. 

Perhaps the most apposite comment on the letter 
just quoted is that in any other age it would have hardly 
been possible for an educated man to be content to 
shut himself off from the best work of his contem- 
poraries. But to affirm this is to anticipate. It will at 
any rate not be disputed that our correspondent after 
a course of amusing himself at something below his 
own habitual degree of awareness has become unable 
to make the effort necessary to tackle a novel that does 
not offer commonplaces of observation and reassuring 
sentiment. Reassuring in the same way as the more 
popular bestsellers already discussed. By this is not 
meant merely the moral or thesis (though cf. The Bridge 
of San Luis Rey, Go She Must, The Good Companions . . .) 
but a more persuasively insinuating effect. Here, for 
instance, is one that deals explicitly with the cultural 
situation (a). There is behind the book the figure of 
a certain Henry Galleon, a mythical novelist, who is 
imposed on the reader as a great artist. The reader is 
introduced to the best literary society in London, 

(a) Hugh Walpole, The Young Enchanted (1921). 



78 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

and a discussion takes place in which a modest 
middlebrow novelist overthrows the objectionable 
highbrows : 

Campbell was a novelist who had once been of the Galleon 
school and full of Galleonish subtleties, and now was popular 
and Trollopian. He was, perhaps, a trifle overpleased with 
himself and the world, a little too prosperous and jolly and 
optimistic, and being in addition the son of a Bishop, his 
voice at times rose to a pulpit ring, but he meant well, was 
vigorous and bland and kindly. 

The highbrow critics, contemptible figures so interested 
in Art as to lack Humour, thoroughly despise him, we 
are given to understand, but he of course sees through 
them. He is drawn into a discussion with them, and 
4 something on this occasion had become too strong for 
him and dragged him into a public declaration of faith, 
regardless whether he offended or no.' He tells them 
they are * " All wrong." ' * " Arrogance, Arrogance,' 
Arrogance that's the matter with all of you and the 
matter with Literature and Art to-day, and politics 
too." ' The editor of a highbrow journal puts up the 
author's conception of a defence of the critical attitude : 
' " Why shouldn't I select the good work and praise it 
and leave the rest alone? " " Yes," said Campbell ; 
" what's good work by your over-sophisticated, over- 
read, over-intellectual standard. . . . About contem- 
porary Art one can only be personal, never final. . . . 
Don't think there's personal feeling in this. There 
might have been ten years ago. I worried then a 
terrible deal about whether I were an artist or no ; I 
cared what you people said, read your reviews, and was 
damnably puzzled by the decisions you gave. And then 
suddenly I said to myself, ' Why shouldn't I have 



AUTHOR AND READER 79 

some fun? Life's short. I'm not a great artist, and 
never shall be. I'll write to please myself.' And I did. 
And I've been happy ever since. ... I'm nearer real 
life than you are, any of you. . . . What do you 
people know about anything save literary values? 
There aren't any literary values until Time has 
spoken." ' He suggests that we should 4 " take every- 
thing a little less solemnly . . . respond to beauty." ' 
We subsequently learn through the medium of the 
thoughts of the dark-horse novelist hero that 
* Campbell was a happy man, and a man who was 
living his life at its very fullest. He was not a great 
artist, of course great artists were never happy 
but he had a narrative gift that it amused him to play 
with every morning of his life from ten to twelve, and 
he made money from that gift and could buy books 
and pictures and occasionally do a friend a good turn. 
Monteith and Grace Talbot and the others were more 
serious artists and were more seriously considered, 
but their gifts came to mighty little in the end thin, 
thin, little streams/ 

This account of a novel widely read and admired 
by the educated has been given because it affords a 
valuable glimpse of the temper of the age. The 
similarity of this author's outlook to that of the low- 
level bestsellers is obvious ; the accent of ' I'm nearer 
real life than you are, any of you,' etc., is the note of 
the quotations on p. 68. It is notable, then, that the 
principal endeavour of the popular contemporary 
novelists at all levels (for no highbrow novelist can 
really be called popular with a market of 3000 in a 
reading public of 43 millions) is to persuade the 
ordinary prosperous citizen that life is fun, he is 



8o FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

living it at its fullest, and there are no standards in 
life or art other than his own. Whether this is for the 
community a desirable state of affairs or not is a 
question which does not come within the limits of this 
section. Before it can be discussed we must first 
enquire whether the situation we have examined 
presents any essentially new features or whether, as 
those inclined to take a serious view of it will find 
themselves assured, ' things have always been the 



same/ 



PART II 
THE PAST 



Much of the influence of fine literature must be wasted until 
something more is known about the public than is known at present. 
Who are the people who read books ? Who are the people who 
read books of this sort and of that? Where are they to be found? 
It is only when these questions can be satisfactorily answered that 
authorship and publishing can flourish, and the finest ideas can 
permeate the community. Statistics of the operation of ideas are 
surely not of less public importance than statistics of employment, 
ages, births and deaths. 

The Influence of the Press, R. A. SCOTT-JAMES. 

If 50,000 people buy a novel whose shortcomings render it 
tenth-rate, we may be sure that they have not conspired to do so, 
and also that their strange unanimity is not due to chance. There 
must be another explanation of the phenomenon, and when this 
explanation is discovered some real progress will have been made 
towards that democratisation of art which it is surely the duty of 
the minority to undertake, and to undertake in a religious spirit. 
. . . I am aware that a few of the minority regard the demo- 
cratisation of art as both undesirable and impossible, but even they 
will admit that this particular problem in the 'psychology of 
crowds ' the secret of popularity in art has sufficient intrinsic 
interest to be attacked for its own sake, apart from any end which 
the solving might or might not serve. 

Fame and Fiction, ARNOLD BENNETT. 

Perhaps you will say I should not take my ideas of the manners 
of the times from such trifling authors ; but it is more truly to be 
found among them, than from any historian : as they write merely 
to get money, they always fall into the notions that are most accept- 
able to the present taste. 

Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. 



THE PAST 

I 
THE BIRTH OF JOURNALISM 

SO remote from us in every way is the first English 
reading public for what can the age of cinema 
and mass production make of Shakespeare's and 
Nashe's public? and so limited is our knowledge of 
it, that it is more than any one dare to speak of it with 
confidence. All that can be safely attempted is an 
examination of such of their reading matter as has 
survived, bearing in mind that reading did not play the 
same major part in the life of any class that it now does, 
as has been shown, in the life of all classes. In the 
sixteenth and even the seventeenth centuries it was 
music that filled the leisure of rich and poor and the 
working hours of the people 46 as well, and by this is 
meant active participation in vocal and instrumental 
music in which at that time England was unrivalled. 
Chappell (a) summarises his account of the musical 
interests of the Elizabethan age thus : * Not only was 
music a necessary qualification for ladies and gentle- 
men, but even the city of London advertised the 
musical abilities of boys educated in Bridewell and 
Christ's Hospital, as a mode of recommending them as 
servants, apprentices, or husbandmen. Tinkers sang 
catches ; milkmaids sang ballads ; carters whistled ; 
each trade, and even the beggars, had their special 

(a) Chappell, Old English Popular Music, Vol. I.' The Age of Elizabeth/ 

85 



84 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

songs ; the base-viol hung in the drawing-room for the 
amusement of waiting visitors ; and the lute, cittern, 
and virginals, for the amusement of waiting customers, 
were the necessary furniture of the barber's shop. They 
had music at dinner; music at supper; music at 
weddings ; music at funerals ; music at night ; music 
at dawn ; music at work ; and music at play.' Dr. 
John Case observed how * Every troublesome and 
laborious occupation useth musicke for solace and 
recreation, . . , And hence it is that manual 
labourers, and mechanical artificers of all sorts keepe 
such a chaunting and singing in their shoppes the 
tailor on his bulk the shoemaker at his last the 
mason at his wall the ship-boy at his oar the 
tinker at his pan and the tiler on the housetop,' and 
even the Puritan interlude seems not to have broken 
the tradition, 47 for in 1676 old Thomas Mace the 
musician remarked the * common tunes , , . which 
are to be known by the boys and common people 
singing them in the streets. Among them are many 
very excellent and well-contrived,' of which he noticed 
the characteristic ' neat and spruce ayre.' All this 
implies a valuable kind of education that even the 
poorest seem to have received or picked up ; the 
common people who sang their well-contrived and 
often exquisite tunes about the streets, the * trades- 
men and foremen ' who in the middle of the seven- 
teenth century were accustomed to sing together out of 
Pleyford's Catch-book, the gentlemen who could sing 
complicated music at sight, 48 did not need a regular 
supply of fiction to amuse them. And this implies 
too a genuine social life at every level. 

In London they had too the theatre, where for a 



THE BIRTH OF JOURNALISM 85 

penny one could hear Marlowe's mighty line and the 
more subtle rhythms of his successors. And to object 
that most of the audience could not possibly under- 
stand the play and only went to the theatre because 
the alternative to Hamlet was the bear-pit is beside the 
point for the purposes of the student of cultural 
history ; the importance of this for him is that the 
masses were receiving their amusement from above 
(instead of being specially catered for by journalists, 
film-directors, and popular novelists, as they are now). 
They had to take the same amusements as their 
betters, and if Hamlet was only a glorious melodrama 
to the groundlings, they were none the less living for 
the time being in terms of Shakespeare's blank verse 
(there seems to be a sound case, at any rate, to be made 
out for the theory that the audience positively liked 
the long soliloquies that are so often the high water- 
mark of the Elizabethan dramatists' poetry) ; to argue 
that they would have preferred Tom Mix or Tarzan of 
the Apes is idle. Happily they had no choice, and 
education of ear and mind is none the less valuable for 
being acquired unconsciously. The importance of the 
training in listening to the sustained expression of 
complex modes of thought and feeling that the age of 
Elizabeth and James endured has never been ade- 
quately stressed, though to take amusement in the form 
of listening to choirs and ' the minstrels of the towne,' 
sermons of the sixteenth and seventeenth century 
divines, 49 and the Elizabethan drama, is in itself 
suggestive of a standard of mental alertness and con- 
centration that has never been reached by the London 
public since. 

But that public was probably no more than a quarter 



86 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

of a million out of a population of nearly five millions. 
The life of the nation as a whole is only to be gauged 
as the force behind the literature of the age; its 
abundant vitality for it suggests the epithet ' lusty ' 
rather than * fine 'was the soil from which that 
amazing literature flowered. The modern reader is at 
once struck by the body of traditional lore the people 
must have possessed which served instead of the 
' knowledge ' (i.e. acquaintance with a mass of more 
or less unrelated facts, derived principally from an 
elementary school education and the newspaper) that 
forms the background of the modern working-man's 
mind. The Elizabethan peasant or 'prentice in- 
herited a folk-history of England (for the historical 
plays, so dull to us, so enthralling to them, imply a 
remarkable acquaintance with the kind of history that 
centres on personalities and factions, and the ballads 
confirm this), a picturesque store of classical, medieval, 
and biblical legends, on which the ballads embroidered 
endlessly, a series of traditional heroes of the people 
and their adventures (so that all a penurious scribbler 
like Deloney need do was to string them together), and 
the broad but not always unsubtle humour of the jest- 
books ; and all this supported an idiom rich in pro- 
verbial wisdom, that explains in some degree the wealth 
of allusion in the drama and pamphlets of the age, and 
helps us to understand how the audience or reader 
could possibly have followed even the thread of the 
argument, so tangled to us whose minds are furnished 
with mere information, a kind of knowledge not rooted 
in the soil but depending on print, and who have been 
accustomed for two centuries to have the writer 
smooth the way for us. For the next thing that one 



THE BIRTH OF JOURNALISM 87 

notices is how much less was done for the common 
reader by the Elizabethan popular writer or dramatist 
than by the modern popular author or journalist. If 
the novel has been getting more difficult, fiction in 
general has been getting easier; compared with the 
Elizabethan pamphlet twentieth-century journalism is 
pre-digested food. The journalist who could declare, 
like Ingenioso in The Returne from Parnassus^ ' for the 
husbanding of my witt, I put it out to interest and make 
it returne twoo pamphlets a weeke,' had also to 
affirm * He have my pen run like a spigot, and my in- 
vention answer it quick as a drawer/ The spirited 
plunging sentence of Nashe whose horses, tugging in 
different directions, are always running away with him, 
is representative. Take a sentence at random from 
The Unfortunate Traveller: 

Verie devout Asses they were, for all they were so dunstic- 
ally set forth, and such as thought they knew as much of 
God's minde as richer men: why inspiration was their 
ordinarie familiar, and buzd in their eares like a Bee in a 
boxe everie hower what newes from heaven, hell, and the 
land of whipperginnic, displease them who durst, he should 
have his mittimus to damnation ex tempore, they would 
vaunt there was not a pease difference betwixt them and the 
Apostles, they were as poor as they, of as base trades as they, 
and no more inspired than they, and with God there is no 
respect of persons, onely herein may seeme some little diver- 
sitie to lurk, that Peter wore a sword, and they count it flat 
hel fire for anie man to weare a dagger: nay, so grounded 
and gravelled were they in this opinion, that now when they 
should come to Battell, theres never a one of them would 
bring a blade (no, not an onion blade) about hym to dye for it. 

Such prose, high-spirited, breathless, and frequently 
inconsequential for the Elizabethan sentence was a 
bag into which anything that lay by the way was swept 



88 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

requires slow reading and unusual mental activity to 
follow the sense, disentangle the essentials, and secure 
the implications. And the texture of Pierce Penilesse's 
writings differs only from that of Dekker's and Greene's 
pamphlets and the work of all the other journalists who 
would ' yark up a Pamphlet in a night and a day,' not 
to speak of the Martin Marprelate tracts on both 
sides, 50 in being on the whole livelier and fuller- 
blooded. By modern standards they show an in- 
sulting disregard of the readers' convenience : the 
dashing tempo, the helter-skelter progress, the un- 
expected changes of direction and tone so that the 
reader is constantly faced with a fresh front, the stream 
of casual allusion and shifting metaphor, leave us 
giddy as the Elizabethan dramas leave us stunned. 
The fact is, that Elizabethan popular writers were able 
to make use of a rich speech idiom ; they wrote for a 
people whose social intercourse had developed the art 
of conversation their punctuation in this connection 
is highly suggestive, and so is the size of their vocab- 
ulary. There was here no poverty of emotional life 
needing fantasy to nourish it, no relief in vicarious 
living. The drama, the sermon, and the prose of the 
age are different aspects of one phenomenon. 

The court was more particularly catered for by such 
works as ' A Petite Palace of Pettie his pleasure : Con- 
tayning many pretie Hystories, by him set foorth in 
comely colours and most delightfully discoursed ' (a\ 
4 Euphues, The Anatomy of Wit ' (), Sidney's 
Arcadia (c) ; of these and their imitators two things 

(a) George Pettie (1576). By 1613 there were seven editions. 

(b) John Lyly (1578). Esdaile records twenty -six editions by 1718. 

(c) Published first in 1590, though handed about in manuscript for a few 
years before. * Now the sixt time published/ 1622. 



THE BIRTH OF JOURNALISM 89 

are to be noticed : that they are all addressed more or 
less explicitly to the ladies 51 and in consequence set 
out to refine manners and provide elegant amusement, 
and that their authors were not journalists but dilettante 
engaged in exploiting the newly discovered possi- 
bilities of style, unlike the pamphleteers whose prose 
is too much in earnest to be ' quaint.' Dull as their 
work is now (for its interest depended on the creation 
of word patterns), it embalms one aspect of the 
Elizabethan civilisation, that as a whole presents to 
us in Shakespeare, for instance an inexplicable 
mixture of the profound and the naive, the fine and the 
gross, the subtle and the crude. Forde, no courtier 
or scholar but a man with a living to make, turned out 
popular romances on the model of the Arcadia that are 
by no means dreary but add to their originals a lively 
charm. Forde is important as a document of the more 
or less cultivated taste of the age. He was enormously 
popular, 62 he dealt of course in what Nashe scornfully 
described in the Anatomic of Absurditie as ' feyned no- 
where acts/ and the substance can be dismissed as 
nonsense. But Forde's claims to respect can be 
perceived if one contrasts him with the twentieth- 
century equivalent. The value of his work can best 
be made plain by a series of negatives. It is not un- 
healthy, it satisfies no morbid cravings, offers nothing 
in the way of wish -fulfilment or opportunities for 
emotional orgies, the story is the opposite of exciting, 
the characterisation is so unpronounced and abstract 
as to give no scope for day-dreaming, 53 and the style is 
sweetly detached and strictly unsentimental. It will be 
objected that this is only because Forde didn't know 
his job, and it must be admitted that his virtues are 



90 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

those of innocence, an innocence, be it added, that no 
novelist after Richardson could exhibit. Again and 
again an Elizabethan romancer will lead up to a 
dramatic situation full of possibilities (the reunion of 
lovers after many vicissitudes, an avowal, the dis- 
covery of a long-lost child or parent), and then abandon 
it at the critical moment with a dismissive gesture. 
The history of popular taste is largely bound up with 
the discovery by the writing profession of the technique 
for exploiting emotional responses. Now Forde and 
his kind can be trusted never to exploit an emotional 
or even a pathetic scene ; they coolly proceed with the 
business of getting on with the plot (the intricate 
meaningless web that Sidney popularised), so that the 
sophisticated twentieth century cannot understand 
what their public read them for. There is no means of 
knowing, but that fresh innocence of Forde's says a 
good deal for both author and reader. Childish as 
the romance formula was, it had a certain delicate 
beauty that the succeeding age replaced by a hardy 
cynicism. Forde's characteristic virtues may be de- 
monstrated by quoting the opening scene of Ornaius 
and Artesia : 

Ornatus above all things, delighted in hawking, and on a 
day being weary, he wandered without company with his 
hawk on his fist into a most pleasant valley, where by he 
shrowded himself under the shadow of a tuft of green trees, 
with purpose to rest himself, and even when his eyes were 
ready to yeild to slumber, he was revived from his drowsi- 
ness by the noise of a kennel of hounds that past by him in 
chase of a stag, after whom, Arbastus and divers of his com- 
pany (though to him unknown) followed, who being passed 
by, whilst he was in a deep study, to think what they should 
be, he espied a beautiful damsel entering the same valley, 



THE BIRTH OF JOURNALISM 91 

who being somewhat weary, liking the prospect of that shady 
tuft of trees, alighted there, which Ornatus seeing, with- 
drew himself from her sight, whilst she tying her steed to a 
bush, laid her delicate body down upon the cooling earth, to 
cool herself, and dry the sweat, which the sooner to accom- 
plish, she unlaced her garments, and with a decent and comely 
behaviour, discovered her milk-white neck and breast beauti- 
fied with two round precious teats, to receive the breath of 
the cool wind, which was affected with a delight to exhale 
the moistened vapours of her pure body. Ornatus seeing all, 
and unseen himself, noted with a delight each perfect linea- 
ment of her proper body, beauty, sweat, savour, and other 
comeliness, which filled his heart with exceeding pleasure, 
therewith growing into an unrestrained affection towards 
her, and a great study what she should be, when suddenly 
his hawk feeling his fist unmoveable thinking to perch herself 
with quiet, primed herself and with the noise of her bells 
made Artesia to start, who as one half agast, with a fearful 
behaviour rose from the ground, looking about her from 
whence that sound came, she espied Ornatus, who unwilling 
she should perceive he had seen her, lay as if he had slept, 
Artesia marvelling what he should be, and accordingly 
thinking he had slept, closed her naked breast with great 
haste, and unloosing her horse, thought to go away unespied. 
Which Ornatus perceiving, and unwilling without speaking 
to her to lose her sight, seemed to awake, and raising himself, 
steadfastly behold her, which infused such a red vermillion 
blush into her beautiful cheeks, and withall such a bashfull 
confusion spread itself in her conceits, that she stood like one 
half amazed or ashamed. 

Which Ornatus perceiving, drew towards her, and greeted 
her with these speeches. Fair damsel, be not abashed with 
my presence, though a stranger, which shall no way (if I can 
choose) offend you, but rather command me, and I will be 
ready to do you any service. Artesia, notwithstanding his 
speeches, withdrew herself aside, leading her horse to a bank, 
where with ease she mounted, and so rode away, not giving 
him any answer at all. 



92 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

One is reminded of the ' neat and spruce ayre ' which 
old Thomas Mace remarked as characteristic of the 
common songs. Looking through the pages of 
Chappell's//jA Popular Music, one observes the same 
quality of unpremeditated innocence in the tunes of the 
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Compare them 
with the dragging movement of the nineteenth-century 
drawing-room ballads and the lascivious syncopated 
rhythms of the twentieth-century song- and dance- 
records. Forde's readers, high and low, liked their 
song-lyrics to have a basis of unromantic good sense, 
and the absence of sentimental appeal noticeable in the 
lyrics from the Elizabethan song-books is parallel to 
the quality of Forde's tales. 

Lower down Deloney the ballad-journalist found a 
public for fiction, 64 dedicating his works to the cloth- 
workers and shoemakers and cordwayners, and de- 
ploying much the same transparent arts as Defoe for 
flattering his readers. 55 He produced an agreeable 
mixture of fairy-tale and matter-of-fact observation of 
the life around him, drawing on the jest-book anecdotes 
and writing up the traditional folk-heroes like Crispine 
and Crispianus, Simon Eyre, and the Six Worthy 
Yeomen of the West ; and there is again no day-dream 
but a sturdy acceptance of things as they are, often 
disconcertingly unromantic and not even providing a 
happy ending or a suitably pathetic one. Take, for 
instance, the tale of Richard (a) who was beloved by 
the two delightful maids, Margaret of the Spread 
Eagle and Gillian of the George (Margaret incidentally 
is the Long Meg of Westminster of jest-book fame) ; 
the history of their attempts upon him is told at length, 

(a) The Gentle Craft, Part II. 



THE BIRTH OF JOURNALISM 93 

but in the end he marries some one else (unnamed) and 
the story is polished off thus : 

O God (quoth Margaret) have I been so chary to keep my 
honesty, and so dainty of my maiden-head that I could spare 
it no man for the love I bore to hard-hearted Richard, and 
hath he served me thus? Well Gillian (quoth she) let us go, 
never will I be so tide in affection to one man again while I 
live 5 what a deale of time have I lost and spent to no purpose 
since I came to London? and how many kinde offers have 
I forsaken, and disdainfully refused of many brave Gentle- 
men, that would have bin glad of my good will ? . . . Thus 
Margaret in a melancholy humor went her waies, and in a 
short time after, she forsooke Westminster, and attended on 
the King's army to Bullio, and while the siege lasted, became 
a landresse to the Camp, and never after did she set store by 
her selfe, but became common to the call of every man, till 
such time as all youthful delights was banished by old age, 
and in the ende she left her life in Islington, being very peni- 
tent for all her former offences. 

Gillian in the end was well married, and became a very 
good house-keeper, living in honest name and fame till her 
dying day. 

Even when we have discounted for the ' quaintness,' 
the pleasure that we get from contact with an idiom to 
which we are unaccustomed, there is still a great deal 
to admire. Deloney's cheerful realism, his use of 
homely (and therefore vigorous) speech, 66 and of the 
humour of the people, his Chaucerian clarity and 
freshness and his innocence of any literary artifice, 
may well make the modern reader wonder whether, 
after all, the author of The Good Companions and Angel 
Pavement has gained more than he has lost by having 
the whole of English literature behind him and the 
novels of Dickens and Arnold Bennett at his back, 
by writing for an educated public and laying claim to 



94 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

the title of artist. It is easy at any rate to see what he 
has lost. 

How much could be done by using what lay at hand 
Nashe's solitary novel shows. It is the product of 
journalism in an age when no distinction existed 
between journalism and literature, when journalism 
that set out to amuse had to compete with the stage. 
So Nashe's prose has all the vitality that Sidney and 
Lyly had sacrificed to ceremony. Almost any passage 
will show the effect of writing for a public accustomed 
to watching the drama, and the same dramatic imagina- 
tion is visible in Greene's pamphlets, as opposed to the 
dreary Euphuistic contortions of his Carde of Fancie. 
The general public at the end of the sixteenth century 
could apparently be counted on for a certain mental 
agility acquired from frequenting the playhouse and 
Paul's Cross, produced by a culture in which con- 
versation was an art. 

If in this brief sketch of the reading capacity of the 
Elizabethans an impression has been given of any 
decided differentiation in their reading, it must at once 
be corrected. The public was too narrow for any 
specialisation of the kind described in Part I., and 
journalism so new that the possibilities of the printed 
word had not been discovered. Though Euphues and 
later the Arcadia were all the wear at court and never 
reached the people, it was much commoner for a 
writer to address himself to the community at large, 
like Dekker on the title-page of his Bellman of London^ 
which he recommends as ' profitable for Gentlemen, 
Lawyers, Merchants, Citizens, Farmers, Masters of 
Households, and all sorts of servants, and delightful for 
all men to read.' The primitive character of the literary 



THE BIRTH OF JOURNALISM 95 

market is depicted in Shakespeare's England (a) \ the 
absence of an organised 4 Trade ' made it necessary 
for authors to do their own advertising on their title- 
pages, as Dekker quoted above, and Deloney in The 
Gentle Craft (' Being a most mery and pleasant 
Historic, not altogether unprofitable, nor any way 
hurtful : verie fit to passe away the tediousnesse of the 
long winter evenings '). One result of the limited 
reading public was that it meant a genuine com- 
munity, as yet unspoilt by the traffic in literature : 
there is the same healthy emotional spontaneity in the 
novels of both Deloney and Forde. Even the humblest 
literary jobs reveal a pleasingly unbusiness-like zest 
the popular jest-books, for instance. ' The Pleasant 
Conceits of Old Hobson, the merry Londoner, full of 
humorous discourses and witty merriments, whereat 
the quickest wits may laugh, and the wiser sort take 
pleasure* (1607, 1634, 1640, and doubtless other 
editions, being the kind of book that is worn to shreds) 
is introduced thus : 

Of Master Hobson's description. 

In the beginning of Queene Elizabeths most happy Reigne, 
our late deceased Sovereigne, under whose peacefull govern- 
ment long flourished this our Country of England, there 
lived in the Citie of London a merry Citizen, named old 
Hobson a Haberdasher of female wares, dwelling at the lower 
end of Cheape-side, in the Poultry, as well known through 
this part of England as a Sergeant knowes the Counter gate: 
he was a homely plaine man, most commonly wearing a 
button Cap close to his eares, a short Gowne girt about his 
midle, and a paire of slippers upon his feete of an ancient 
fashion, as for his wealth it was answerable to the better sort 
of our Citizens, but of so merry a disposition that his equall 

(a) Vol. II. chap, xxiii. 



96 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

therein is hardly to be found : hereat let the pleasant disposed 
people laugh and the more grave in carriage take no excep- 
tions, for here are merriments without hurt, and humorous 
jests savouring upon wisdome: read willingly but scoffe not 
spightfully, for old Hobson spent his dayes merrily. 

So small was the community that an eccentric trades- 
man was a well-known figure; there was room for 
personalities. It was the journalist who suffered from 
the narrowness of the market ; the typical Elizabethan 
journalist * contended with the colde and conversed 
with scarcitie/ as Nashe wrote of himself, was im- 
prisoned for debt and died destitute. It was in a later 
age that the journalist learned how to grow prosperous 
at the expense of culture. 



II 

THE PURITAN CONSCIENCE 

THE next distinct phase to be observed in the 
history of English taste is represented at its 
purest by Bunyan ; Defoe was its journalist and Milton 
its poet. And the influence of this phase is traceable 
throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, 
so that the sudden break at the end of the last century 
in the hitherto continuous tradition of more than two 
hundred years is of some significance. 

It is not fantastic to assert that it was the Puritan 
culture as much as Bunyan that produced Pilgrim's 
Progress. Its instant success, its innumerable imitators, 
testify to its acceptability, and its religious aim made 
it as indispensable to every respectable home as the 
Bible, till the Puritan conscience itself decayed. 57 It 
was the greatest good luck for the English that three 
of their early literary masterpieces (the Authorised 
Version, Pilgrim's Progress^ and Paradise Lost) should 
have been explicitly religious works, so that even the 
grimmest and poorest Puritan household possessed at 
least the first two of these ; and that a journalist of 
genius should have been impelled by force of circum- 
stances to make the most fascinating of all games 
(playing at house) a suitable Sunday book. These 
four works remained the inevitable if not the only books 
in the home of the decent working man for a couple of 
centuries, an invaluable educational influence with 
whatever purpose they may have been read, for to read 
Bunyan and Milton for religious instruction, as to 



98 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

attend Elizabethan drama for the ' action/ is to receive 
an education unconsciously. 

What in sum is it that Bunyan and Defoe do for 
their readers ? Or, to put the same question in another 
way, what kind of testimony do they bear to the nature 
of the interests of their readers ? The closer one looks 
the more fully one is persuaded that the life of the 
people at the end of the seventeenth century and of the 
shopkeeper class at the beginning of the eighteenth 
century was in general both finer in quality and more 
satisfying in substance than that of their descendants 
whose reading habits have been described in Part I. 
For Pilgrim's Progress is among other things an 
excellent advertisement for the age that reared Bunyan. 
In spite of the allegorical names his characterisation is 
really subtle, 68 and so is his morality. Unlike the 
major eighteenth century and Victorian novelists he 
has no sharp black and white, vice and virtue, and no 
cheap system of rewards and punishments. His 
method is that of the best novelists to reveal men for 
what they are : the gentlemanly Mr. Worldly Wise- 
man who always went to the town of Morality to church, 
and those other gentlemen his friends* Mr. Legality 
and his simpering son Civility, Mr, By-ends of the 
town of Fair-speech and his highly respectable school- 
fellows, are the only * villains ' of the book, and nothing 
more happens to them in the way of poetic justice than 
to the gross and stupid who are the villains of Jane 
Austen's novels they are merely left to themselves 
for ever. And similarly, Mr. Badman who cheats 
his customers, robs his creditors, drinks, swears, and 
whores, and so breaks his pious wife's heart, prospers 
all his days, and except for a tang of the pox in his 



THE PURITAN CONSCIENCE 99 

bowels dies as peacefully as a Christian. 59 Bunyan 
had observed the life around him as closely as Defoe, 
and he was free from the necessity which made Defoe 
a journalist. His observation is truer and his morality 
juster (that is to say, wiser) than Richardson's, his 
version of the pattern of life is more satisfying than 
Richardson's, proceeding from a finer mind. In 
consequence he is a better novelist, and whereas 
Richardson's interest for the reader of Dostoievsky 
and Henry James is almost entirely historical, Bunyan's 
is intrinsic. 

Bunyan's vigour derives from the soil. The shrewd 
percipience and the respect for ' character ' that still 
distinguish the English peasant are pervasive ; it was 
no mere Puritan who could appreciate the variety of 
stiff-necked courage that supported Mr. Haughty and 
Mr. Lustings at their trial in The Holy War (' "My 
Lord, I am a man of high birth, and I have been used 
to pleasures and pastimes of greatness. I have not been 
wont to be snub'd for my doings " '). But Bunyan's 
attitude inherent in the culture which produced him 
is fundamentally antithetical to that of the twentieth 
century. To explain what is meant in Bunyan's own 
terms: the town of Stupidity that lieth about four 
degrees beyond the City of Destruction is worse than 
the City of Destruction itself, lying more off from the 
sun, and so more cold and senseless ; the very brisk 
lad Ignorance was decent, honest, and God-fearing, he 
had done all the right things (' I knew my Lord's will, 
and I have been a good liver; I pay every man his 
own ; I pray, fast, pay tithes, and give alms, and have 
left my country for whither I am going '), and he gets 
to the Celestial City without half that difficulty which 



ioo FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

Christian and Hopeful met with, but at the threshold 
it is commanded to take Ignorance and bind him hand 
and foot and have him away ; the book ends not with 
the vision of the City as Christian enters but the 
damning of Ignorance ' Then I saw that there was a 
way to hell, even from the gates of heaven, as well as 
from the City of Destruction.' With this attitude and 
its implications the public which has been investigated 
in Part I. would hardly sympathise. Bunyan's religi- 
ous vocabulary has only to be translated into the more 
general language of conduct and sensibility for it to be- 
come evident that he is on the side of the highbrow. 

But how is it then, one asks, that Bunyan was able 
to write the most popular book of his age and one of the 
most popular of the subsequent ages ? The explanation 
is to be found in Bunyan's use of language. It was 
noticed in Chapter III. that twentieth-century best- 
sellers employ with great effect what were described as 
the keywords of the emotional vocabulary which is 
associated with religion, using them to touch off 
certain easy responses, producing vague surges of 
warm feeling. This use of language derives, of course, 
from the Authorised Version, and it is obvious at even 
the most cursory reading that the effect of Pilgrim's 
Progress is bound up with the effect of the Authorised 
Version, both the material of the allegory and a large 
proportion of the phrases and idioms coming from the 
latter. But the success of Pilgrim's Progress is more 
subtle than this suggests. Bunyan's mode of thinking 
and feeling is English and Puritan, and it is this that 
reminds one throughout his work that one is in contact 
through him with a genuine culture. He is really as 
much concerned with his neighbours as Thackeray, 



THE PURITAN CONSCIENCE 101 

and manages to work on two planes at once by modulat- 
ing from allegory to realism and correspondingly from 
the movement and language of the Bible to the move- 
ment and idiom of common speech. Thus the charac- 
teristic effect of reading a passage of Bunyan is a 
stirring of the blood the Biblical phrases and cadences 
evoke overtones, and the peculiarly thrilling quality of 
the prose is due to this technique which enables a 
precise particular occasion to draw on the accumulated 
religious associations of a race. Bunyan 's work could 
no more than Shakespeare's have been done in any 
other language. 

At this point a digression is necessary to describe 
how Bunyan differs from the bestsellers of Part I, in 
his use of the emotional keywords. His use of them 
may be called serious : he is concerned with the good 
life, and his integrity of purpose justifies his handling 
of the most important part of our vocabulary, which is 
in consequence enriched with another layer of associa- 
tions after passing through his works. They use it 
unconscionably : to make a splash, bring off an effect 
too easily, indulging the reader in the luxury of un- 
focussed emotion ; they call out the religious attitude 
to support an unworthy code (Kingsley for his muscular 
and provincial Christianity, for instance, Gilbert 
Frankau and James Douglas for their brand of religio- 
erotic stimulant), and the result is necessarily disgust- 
ing to the sensitive. It is in this way that popular 
novelists and journalists have debased the language of 
the Authorised Version. Bunyan, of course, made the 
process possible, just as Swinburne, starting in nearly 
the same place and in much the same way, made 
possible the verse of Kipling and Masefield best- 



102 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

sellers in verse and prose have evolved along the same 
lines, reinforcing each other's work. As a result, no 
serious twentieth-century writer can touch Bunyan's 
vocabulary without self-consciousness, and to use it he 
must exert tact and ingenuity if he is to avoid the wrong 
kind of response. 

Defoe, having spent a lifetime in every kind of 
literary hack-work and being finally discredited as a 
political writer with both parties, at the age of fifty- 
nine turned to, or rather, luckily drifted into, prose 
fiction to support himself. His readers were of * the 
middle state, or what might be called the upper station 
of low life ' (a) y and Defoe made a brilliant success by 
providing suitable entertainment for their leisure, a 
nice task since that leisure had been by custom given 
over to improving reading of the ' Drelincourt's Book 
of Consolations against the Fears of Death ' type. If 
fiction could be disguised so that it could be acceptable 
to the virtuous (for whom ' invention ' meant lying, and 
more particularly the immoral literature and drama of 
the Restoration Court), fiction could be made to pay. 
Defoe therefore concentrated on literary devices which 
actually preclude the creation of a work of art. 
Nevertheless, while making his living as a journalist, 
giving a public what it wanted, he was able as no 
twentieth-century journalist to produce literature 
unawares. Journalism, necessarily related to speech, 
is dependent on the quality of the idiom at its disposal, 
and since idiom is an expression of the sensibility of an 
age, the journalist's virtues and vices are before the 
era of big-circulation papers those of his public. 

(a) Robinson Crusoe 9 p. 2* 



THE PURITAN CONSCIENCE 103 

Defoe's luck lay in having a pure contemporary idiom in 
use ; he wrote as he spoke, and thus was able to write so 
fast and so well. And he had no literary ambitions and 
so no literary notions of * style ' unlike Scott and 
Dickens, who, while not producing at anything like 
the same rate, wrote in general very ill, their idea of 
1 style ' being something alien from speech. 

How single-minded Defoe was in his aims an in- 
spection of Robinson Crusoe will show. He is to be 
observed at the beginning cautiously feeling his way, 
with a passage of five hundred words devoted to praise 
of ' the middle station,' introduced solely to flatter 
the middle-class reader, 60 followed by a matter-of-fact 
account of young Crusoe's running away to sea, which 
gives plenty of opportunity for pious commentary. 
Once the reader is fairly entangled Defoe can go his 
own way. But he was of his public as well as outside it, 
he is himself the sober Nonconformist citizen, and in 
pleasing them he appears to have been also pleasing 
himself (he chose to follow up the success of the two 
parts of Robinson Crusoe by Serious Reflections during the 
Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson 
Crusoe. With his Vision of the Angelick World). 

Defoe's interests, then, may be taken as identical with 
those of his readers, and they are almost completely 
opposite to the interests in which the bestsellers of 
Chapter III. deal. The public for which Roxana was 
written was being indulged with a day-dream carefully 
moulded to its heart's desire : but a day-dream in 
which the solid unromantic bourgeois interests ruled. 
Hence the stress in all the novels on ' portable 
property,' the lists of stolen goods, booty, and posses- 
sions generally, the tiresome balancing of pros and cons 



104 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

in every possible situation, and the mental stock- 
taking which is a substitute for both psychology and 
emotion. And so, too, the running moral commentary. 
The reader is only interested in what touches his own 
daily life, and with all the opportunities of providing 
Count of Monte-Cristo attractions one observes in 
Roxana nothing of the kind ; the middle station in 
Defoe's day was satisfied with its own way of living, and 
self-respecting enough to see no reason for coveting 
the splendours of high life. The reader of two 
centuries later can hardly realise how it should be that 
in a popular novel the appeal is anti-sentimental and 
anti-romantic, yet when Moll roundly declares, * I had 
been tricked once by that cheat called Love, but the 
game was over ; I was resolved now to be married or 
nothing, and to be well married, or not at all,' the 
author clearly anticipated approval. Again, one is 
struck with the tolerance of the Puritan. Defoe, the 
notorious dissenter writing for a Protestant public, can 
make a minor hero of a ' French Popish priest,' 81 and 
represent the Spaniards, England's traditional enemies, 
as virtuous gentlemen in contrast to the ruffianly Eng- 
lish seamen, 62 The age of the novels of the brothers 
Kingsley, for instance, shows up badly in comparison. 
The Puritan bourgeois code if deficient in fineness 
was not wanting in either decency or good sense. Its 
taste in morality as represented in Defoe's work 
was crude but not cheap ; it did not insist on vice being 
brought to book (Colonel Jack and Captain Singleton, 
Moll and Roxana are permitted to escape a richly 
deserved Nemesis), but it did demand an assurance 
that the conscience of the wicked is not at peace, and 
this Defoe provides whenever he remembers. 63 Yet in 



THE PURITAN CONSCIENCE 105 

doing this he never trespasses on delicate ground he 
never does anything analogous to the bestsellers 
quoted on pp. 66-7 because his idiom affords no 
scope for such appeals. And if it had, what response 
would they have been likely to receive from an age so 
hopelessly incurious where its feelings were concerned 
and so ready to be entertained with a description of the 
contents of its pockets ? So he never tampers with the 
religious emotions ; in his moralising interludes he is 
engaged not in exploiting ' religion ' but in satisfying 
the moral proprieties : it is merely * Religion joined in 
with this prudential ' as Robinson explains when trying 
to find reasons for not attacking the cannibals. And 
there are no emotional appeals ; Friday is casually 
killed off ( 4 to my inexpressible grief ') in half a 
sentence, and a couple of pages later buried as an after- 
thought, a neglect of opportunities that no writer after 
1740 could fail to despise. Even the famous foot- 
print episode is a flat piece of narration. Dickens, the 
Victorian equivalent of Defoe, was appropriately 
astonished at the absence of emotional appeal in 
Robinson Crusoe?* Yet the absence of felt sentiment, 
the concentration on facts of the housekeeping and 
property-owning kind, the decent moralising, the 
business-like ' placing ' of character, are all charac- 
teristic of the popular writing before Richardson. In 
the previous chapter the virtues of the Elizabethan 
and Jacobean novelists were ascribed to innocence, 
and though Defoe is by no means prelapsarian, his 
lack of sophistication in those quarters where our 
literary experience leads us to anticipate it is equally 
engaging, so that contemporary critics are inclined to 
credit him with an artistry which he never possessed. 



106 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

But he was no artist, and as a journalist all his conscious 
ingenuity was directed to trying to pass off fiction 
as fact; to us his journalistic arts seem childishly 
cunning, transparent, and spasmodic, not psychological 
and insidious like those of our own age. 

Defoe and Bunyan were writers outside what Steele 
called ' the circumference of wit,' and their public was 
outside it too. But there is some reason for supposing 
that the writings of Defoe and Bunyan, and the 
Authorised Version, are no bad substitutes for a formal 
education ; they do something more positive for the 
reader than amuse. And if one inspects the 
memoirs (a) of the many self-educated men who 
achieved distinction in the eighteenth and early 
nineteenth centuries, one finds almost invariably that 
their earliest contact with culture was through 
Pilgrim's Progress, the Bible, Paradise Lost> Robinson 
Crusoe. In any part of England, however remote, 
even in the eighteenth century, it was apparently 
possible for the poorest child to learn to read if he 
chose, from his parents or companions or at a dame 
school, and the rest he could do for himself. The 
typical self-made man of the 1750-1850 period was 
born into the respectable poor, attended a dame school 

(a) For instance: Memoirs of the first forty-five years of The Life of James 
Lac ting ton (born 1746) ; Memoirs of Thomas Holcroft (b. 1745) ; The Life, 
Character and Literary Labours of Samuel Drew (b. 1765) ; Francis Place, 
various documents (b. 1771) ; Memoirs from Childhood, by Win. Hone 
(b. 1780) ; Early Days, by Samuel Bamford (b. 1788) ; The Life and 
Struggles of William Lwett, in his pursuit of Bread, Knowledge and Freedom 
(b. 1800) j Memoirs of Wm. and Robert Chambers, by Wm. Chambers 
(b. 1800 and 1802) ; *The Life of Thomas Cooper, Written by Himself (b. 
1 805) ; The Autobiography of a Working Man by * One who has whistled at 
the plough ' (Alexander Somerville, b. 1811). 



THE PURITAN CONSCIENCE 107 

for a short while where he picked up reading and 
writing, was apprenticed to a craft or trade, and either 
through religious conversion or, later on, political 
sympathies was moved to self-cultivation. In every 
case though material circumstances were against him, 
as in our age of compulsory education and limited 
working hours they could never be, yet psychologically 
things were surprisingly easy for him : somehow or 
other he always got hold of the best literature and that 
without much seeking, had no difficulty in finding 
congenial company wherever he went, and read quite 
naturally because he enjoyed his reading without any 
thought of * raising ' himself by his efforts, A type- 
case is James Lackington, whose autobiography, 
first published in 1791, displays his likeness labelled 
' J. Lackington, Who a few years since began Business 
with five pounds, now sells one Hundred Thousand 
Volumes Annually. 1 The son of a poor shoemaker, he 
was apprenticed to the same trade at Taunton, and his 
master's two sons having been converted by Wesley, he 
was infected with religious fervour by them. The 
theological disputes that the family engaged in 
* created in him a desire for knowledge/ and he 
persuaded his mistress and her sons to teach him to 
read. So strong was his ' desire to be talking about 
religious mysteries, etc.,' that in spite of working from 
six in the morning till ten at night he * could soon read 
the easy parts of the Bible, Mr. Wesley's Hymns, etc., 
and every leisure minute was so employed.' Working 
next as a journeyman at Bristol, he found his com- 
panions equally susceptible to ' enthusiastic notions.' 
To them he ' strongly recommended the purchasing of 
books,' and they spent their working hours in religious 



io8 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

disputations while * all worked very hard, particularly 
Mr. John Jones and I, in order to get money to 
purchase books, and for some months every shilling 
we could spare was laid out on old bookshops, stalls, 
etc., insomuch that in a short time we had what we 
called a very good library.' 

What shoemakers' hands at about 1765 called a 
good library was an enormous number of standard 
theological and ' enthusiastic ' works (the Bible of 
course they knew nearly by heart), Wesley's journals 
and sermons, all Bunyan, Paradise Lost, Gay's Fables, 
Pomfret's poems, Walker's translation of Epictetus 
(' read it over and over in raptures '), and Hobbes's 
Homer (' I had somehow or other heard that Homer 
was a great poet, but unfortunately I had never heard 
of Pope's translation of him, so we very eagerly 
purchased that by Hobbes. . . . We that evening 
began with Hobbes's Homer, but found it very difficult 
for us to read, owing to the obscurity of the translation, 
which, together with the indifferent language, and want 
of poetical merit in the translator, somewhat dis- 
appointed us ; however we had from time to time 
many a* hard puzzling hour with him '). There was 
no consciousness in all this of education for a material 
end ; they read first to inform themselves on the matter 
of religion and finally for pure enjoyment * so 
anxious were we to read a great deal, that we allowed 
ourselves but about three hours sleep in twenty- 
four . . . and when all were up, my friend John and 
your humble servant took it in turns to read aloud to 
the rest, while they were at work.' Their reading 
acquainting them that ' there had been various sects 
of philosophers amongst the Greeks, Romans, etc.,' he 



THE PURITAN CONSCIENCE 109 

bought at the bookstalls * Plato on the Immortality 
of the Soul, Plutarch's Morals, Seneca's Morals, 
Epicurus's Morals, the Morals of Confucius the 
Chinese philosopher and a few others ' which made 
' a very deep and lasting impression on my mind/ 
teaching him * to bear the unavoidable evils attending 
humanity and to supply my wants by contracting or 
restraining my desires/ By 1774, when he opened a 
second-hand bookshop with a borrowed capital of 
five pounds, his private library included Young's 
Night Thoughts (which he and his young wife a milk- 
maid had sacrificed their Christmas dinner to buy), 
the first twenty numbers of Hinton's Dictionary of the 
Arts and Sciences, and odd magazines. He con- 
tinued his reading with acquaintances and friends in 
the same way for the rest of his life, so that summing 
up his knowledge of literature at the time of writing 
(^/. 45), he mentions how he proceeded from the 
controversial divines to moral philosophy, studying 
Shaftesbury, Bolingbroke, Tindal, Mandeville . . . 
' Helvetius, Voltaire, and many other free-thinkers.' 
He claims to have read also ' most of our English 
poets, and the best translations of the Greek, Latin, 
Italian, and French poets ; nor did I omit to read 
History, Voyages, Travels, Natural History, Bio- 
graphy. ... I had like to have forgot to inform you, 
that I have also read most of our best plays. . . . 
Another great source of amusement as well as know- 
ledge I have met with in reading almost all the best 
novels ; by the best, I mean those written by Cervantes, 
Fielding, Smollett, Richardson, Miss Burney, Voltaire, 
Sterne, Le Sage, Goldsmith, and some others.' 

Similarly William Hone describes how his father 



no FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

taught him to read from the Bible, besides which 
' Our family library consisted of a mutilated copy of 
Milton's Paradise Lost, Mrs. Glassis Cookery, in worse 
condition, an old book of Farriery, and some pamphlets 
of Mr. Huntingdon. With any other book I was 
wholly unacquainted, and the addition of such a book 
as the Pilgrim's Progress to such a collection as ours was 
to me an event. . . . All the cuts were rude, yet they 
all pleased me ; but the pleasure I derived from the 
work itself is indescribable. I read in it continually, 
and read it through repeatedly/ His father next 
bought him The Holy War, and by the time he was 
nine he had borrowed Foxe's Book of Martyrs ; at 
eleven he was begging for books from neighbours, and 
in this way got hold of Gesner's Death of Abel from a 
copper-plate printer (' a continual feast to me. It 
impressed me deeply ') and an Essay on the Weakness of 
the Human Understanding from a staymaker (' Huet's 
Essay first led me to reflect '), Later on we find him 
taking in * Cook's Poets ' in weekly numbers, and 
getting access somehow by way of the Parochial 
Board to * a good English library,' reading in his 
leisure hours 'many books, particularly Rollin's Ancient 
History, Plutarch's Lives, Pope's Homer, and most of 
Swift's works.' In the same way Samuel Bamford 
when a warehouse porter in Manchester was de- 
lighted with the acquisition of Homer's Iliad trans- 
lated by Pope ' and Milton's poems ; he speaks of 
knowing Burns thoroughly, of reading Shakespeare 
4 with avidity ' and using his spare moments in * read- 
ing many books of which I had only heard the names 
before, such as Robertson's history of Scotland, 
Goldsmith's history of England, Rollin's ancient 



THE PURITAN CONSCIENCE in 

history, Gibbon's decline and fall of the Roman 
Empire, Anachaises' travels in Greece ; and many 
other works on travels, geography, and antiquities. I 
also enlarged my acquaintance with English literature, 
read Johnson's Lives of the Poets, and, as a con- 
sequence, many of their productions also/ At the 
little bookseller's in Peebles, William and Robert 
Chambers towards the end of the eighteenth century 
were privileged, through ' the strong intellectual 
tastes ' of their father (a poor weaver) to borrow books 
from the circulating library recently established, ' and 
thus it came about that by the time we were nine or ten 
years of age, my brother and I had read a consider- 
able number of the classics of English literature, or 
heard our father read them; were familiar with the 
comicalities of Gulliver, Don Quixote, and Peregrine 
Pickle; had dipped into the poetry of Pope and 
Goldsmith, and indulged our romantic tendencies in 
books of travel and adventure. 65 When lately attend- 
ing the Wells of Homburg, I had but one English 
book to amuse me, Pope's translation of the Iliad, and 
I felt it as towards myself an affecting reminiscence, 
that exactly fifty years had elapsed since I perused the 
copy from Elder's library, in a little room looking out 
upon the High Street of Peebles/ When William was 
fifteen we hear of him reading aloud Smollett's and 
Fielding's novels and Gil Bias from five to seven-thirty 
every morning to a baker's family in exchange for a hot 
roll before starting his day's work, and later on rising 
at dawn to read the Spectator thoroughly (' I carefully 
scrutinised the papers of Addison and other writers, 
sentence by sentence, in order to familiarise myself 
with their method of construction and treatment '). 



ii2 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

Thomas Cooper the distinguished Chartist began life 
as a poor Lincolnshire widow's son, of pious stock ; 
from earliest childhood Pilgrim's Progress was his * book 
of books/ and he was familiar with Paradise Lost; the 
travelling * number-man ' lent him Pamela, and from 
the Gainsborough circulating library he was allowed to 
borrow Shakespeare, Dryden's plays, Cook's Voyages, 
and the Waverley Novels. He was apprenticed to a 
lively young shoemaker who * spoke passionately of ' 
the poetry of Byron and lent him the poems of Burns ; 
at fifteen he * formed the valuable friendship of . . * a 
Methodist, but a reader and a thinker ' who directed 
his mind into more solid reading (history and 
theology) ; another friend, a draper's assistant, sug- 
gested forming a Mutual Improvement Society, at 
which they read weekly essays and debated ; and yet 
another, a grocer's apprentice (* of serious and pious 
habits ' but also a Byron enthusiast), who appears to 
have had plenty of pocket-money, bought * forty 
volumes of the English Essayists and Langhorne's 
Plutarch . . . and a translation of Voltaire's Philo- 
sophical Dictionary, which they read and discussed to- 
gether on Sundays. His next friend was a draper ' not 
only well read in standard English literature, more 
especially divinity, but he was passionately attached to 
metaphysics,' was ' a broad general reader, had an 
excellent library, and made me welcome to the loan of 
every book in it that I desired to read.' All these the 
little town of Gainsborough had provided for him 
before he was nineteen. He now set up as a cobbler 
to support his mother and himself, but finding time 
and energy for a scheme of self-education which 
besides languages and theology included committing 



THE PURITAN CONSCIENCE 113 

* the entire Paradise Lost and seven of the best plays 
of Shakespeare to memory ' an ideal nearly achieved. 
In addition he learnt by heart ' thousands of lines by 
Burns and Coleridge, and Wordsworth, and Scott, and 
Byron, and Keats,' and when he ' diverged into mis- 
cellaneous reading ' it was Warton's History of Early 
English Poetry, Johnson's Lives of the Poets, Rasselas, 
and other works, Boswell's Johnson, Frankenstein, and 
every number of the Quarterly and Edinburgh Reviews 
and Blackwood's Magazine. When he was sent to 
Stafford Gaol for political offences we find him fighting 
successfully for the right to keep his box of books, 
spending his captivity in re-reading Gibbon, revel- 
ling in Shakespeare and Milton,' Don Quixote, Virgil, 
Byron, and a pirated Shelley. 

The venerable Samuel Drew (a) spent his first earn- 
ings as a journeyman shoemaker on Pilgrim 9 s Progress, 
which had made ' a deep and lasting impression on 
him.' When he set up his little shop in St. Austell it 
became a centre for * persons partial to religious or 
literary enquiries ' and debates, and in spite of extreme 
poverty and working anything up to eighteen hours a 
day, he managed to * indulge his taste for literature and 
metaphysics ' and read with the many young men ' of 
good information and enquiring minds ' who fre- 
quented his house. And Thomas Holcroft, the friend 
of Godwin and revolutionary novelist, started his 
career as a stable-boy, who picked up an education 
by way of the Bible, old ballads, Bunyan, and odd 
volumes of Swift and Addison. 

These few cases have been chosen as representative 



(a) Variously known as 'The Locke of the ipth Century* and 'The 
English Plato.' 



114 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

histories of a great many such men born before 1860. 
Their autobiographies make impressive as well as 
fascinating reading : born to poverty and often 
wretchedness, without any formal education or ever 
mixing with cultured people, these men acquired a 
feeling for literature perfectly genuine, as the 
language in which they record their delight in their 
reading shows which would be looked for in vain 
among their twentieth-century equivalents who have 
the advantages of compulsory free schooling, public 
libraries, cheap books and periodicals, and a forty-eight- 
hour week. One is struck almost equally by two things 
that emerge the ability that these barely literate 
working-men display to tackle serious works, and the 
absence of any but material difficulties in their way. 
Having learnt to read they would straightway read the 
seventeenth and eighteenth-century classics, and even 
before they could read they seem to have heard of 
them, like Samuel Bamford ; and chance invariably 
threw the right books in their way. Their histories, 
whether they were born in Cornwall, Scotland, 
Somerset, Lincolnshire, London, Yorkshire, or Lanca- 
shire, are curiously alike, and form a not unreliable 
basis for some generalisations. 

The Puritan background gave the mind a certain 
positive inclination which there seems every reason for 
supposing made more than amends for the absence of 
formal education ; for the child who had learnt his 
letters there was little in the way of children's books 
obtainable, only Chevy Chase, Robinson Crusoe, and 
JEtop's Fables, and from these the step to Bunyan and 
Milton was not so steep as at first sight appears. No 
doubt Bunyan and Milton were at first mastered only 



THE PURITAN CONSCIENCE 115 

because they had a religious sanction and lay at hand, 
but a delight in them for their own sake soon fol- 
lowed, and the initial religious jog was reinforced by 
Methodistic 66 or political fervour later on. These 
were enough to provide further stimulus in themselves, 
but the absence of any distractions of the kind that beset 
the twentieth century left our reader single-minded in 
his interests. The Puritan education had taught him 
the value of cumulative pleasure, which enabled him to 
sit down undismayed to Gibbon and Locke, Johnson, 
Pope's Homer and Robertson's histories, solid reading 
that gives little immediate repayment. And the tone 
of the age was all in his favour. The general agree- 
ment as to what was * good ' prevented that smother- 
ing of the best by the inferior, and of literature generally 
by journalism, which was noticed in Part I. as charac- 
teristic of the modern situation. The requisites of a 
liberal education were pretty widely known ; Hume, 
Gibbon, Locke, Dr. Johnson, Shakespeare, Milton, 
Dryden, Pope, Gray, Burns, were the beginnings of 
any one's reading in the period we have been survey- 
ing, and if novels were in question, then Lacking ton's 
list of ' the best ' was the accepted one ; the models 
of style were Swift, Addison, and Goldsmith, odd 
volumes of whose works were the foundation of any 
small second-hand bookseller's stock till Scott's day, 
and these and their imitators provided the periodical 
literature. No energy was wasted, the edge of their 
taste was not blunted on bad writing and cheap 
thinking. 

When revolutionary idealism began to replace 
* enthusiasm ' in the consciousness of the working-man, 
it was still an essentially religious interest, the same 



ii6 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

Puritan vigour directed to a slightly different end, 
The Age of Reason, The Rights of Man, Godwin's 
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, and * Godwin on 
Necessity ' 67 were the bestsellers of a working class 
brought up on the * polemical divines ' of Lackington's 
library. Chartism itself was associated with such men 
as William Lovett, Samuel Bamford, Thomas Cooper, 
and Francis Place, and meetings of Chartist organisa- 
tions were quite likely to be of the nature of ' Mutual 
Improvement ' societies : that run by Thomas Cooper 
in Leicester was equally political, religious, and 
literary, and held on two or three nights a week, when 
* Unless there was some stirring local or political topic 
I lectured on Milton, and repeated portions of Paradise 
Lost, or on Shakespeare, and repeated portions of 
Hamlet, or on Burns, and repeated Tarn o j Shanter ; or 
I recited the history of England, and set the portraits 
of young Englishmen before young Chartists who 
listened with intense interest.' It was the next two 
generations that formed the Mechanics' Institutes, the 
Mutual Improvement Societies, the Athenaeums and 
Philosophical Institutions which gradually allowed the 
Victorian passion for ' science ' or practical information 
to usurp the place literature had hitherto held in the 
esteem of the artisans, craftsmen, and labourers. So 
that when the Rationalist Society became in its turn 
the focus of the aspirations of their children seeking 
self-improvement, the Puritan interests, still religious 
in their devoted earnestness to ideas and their 
pathetically resolute seeking for light, were turned into 
a channel that left the literature of the age untouched. 
The sixpenny paper editions published by the R.P.A. 
in hundreds of thousands were wholly scientific and 



THE PURITAN CONSCIENCE 117 

philosophical Darwin and Huxley, J. S. Mill and 
Herbert Spencer, Comte and Lecky, are the literature 
of the movement, and Newman's Apologia was only 
included for its bearing on theology. And here for 
the moment we must leave the history of popular 
culture. The difference that the disappearance of the 
Sunday book a generation ago has made, its effect 
on the outlook and mental capacity of the people, 
would repay investigation. It was, of course, both a 
cause and a symptom. It was inevitable that the 
modern popular Press when it appeared at the end of 
last century should play a part in the break-up of the 
Puritan tradition, and that the cheaper gratification to 
be derived easily and immediately should be preferred 
by the younger generation to the finer cumulative 
pleasure that literature gave their fathers. We may 
conclude that as a training of the mind any serious 
reading is beneficial (by which, of course, is not meant 
Sunday-school fiction or parish magazines) ; it appears 
axiomatic that one cannot spend Sundays over the 
Bible and Pilgrim's Progress and read the Windsor 
Magazine happily in the week. 68 But if for the Bible 
and Pilgrim's Progress are substituted the News of the 
World and the Sunday Express, it will be evident that 
popular taste is likely to be in some danger. 



Ill 

THE GROWTH OF THE READING PUBLIC 

BUNYAN stands for the English people at the 
end of the seventeenth century, but the un- 
regenerate upper class were reading translations of 
Cervantes (the Exemplary Novels at least as much as 
Don Quixote\ of the Sieur de Calpren&de, of Br^mond, 
Mile, de Scuddry and Scarron. 69 So when Aphra 
Behn turned to prose fiction to eke out her living she 
chose as pattern the French and Spanish novelettes 
she knew to be in favour. She represents the Re- 
storation court culture in fiction, and the interest of 
her work to-day is that it alone shows the exquisite 
poise of Restoration comedy in the form of the novel. 
It is the novelette of high life, but written for the 
4 high life ' world by one who has the freedom of it (a) ; 
Aphra's stories imply a cultured background, that is, 
a cultural tradition and a code of manners, wit, and 
polite intercourse. In the description? of her heroes 
and heroines, for instance, the emphasis invariably falls 
on breeding. 70 Her novels are the work of an amateur, 
as different as possible from Defoe's, as can be seen by 
the highly characteristic opening of The Nun y or the 
Perjured Beauty : 

Don Henrique was a person of great birth, of a great 
estate, of a bravery equal to either, of a most generous educa- 
tion, but of more passion than reason. He was besides of an 
opener and freer temper than generally his countrymen are 

(a) Vide Note 77. 
118 



GROWTH OF THE READING PUBLIC 119 

(I mean, the Spaniards) and always engaged in some love- 
intrigue or other. 

One night as he was retreating from one of those engage- 
ments, Don Sebastian, whose sister he had abused with a 
promise of marriage, set upon him at a corner of a street, in 
Madrid, and by the help of three of his friends, designed to 
have despatched him on a doubtful embassy to the Almighty 
Monarch. But he received their first instructions with 
better address than they expected, and dismissed his envoy 
first, killing one of Don Sebastian's friends, etc . 

One notices the ease and simplicity of the writing, 
the air of good breeding which presents the extra- 
ordinary as a matter of course and assumes that the 
reader shares the writer's code. There is no attempt 
to dramatise or work up an effect in fact, the writer 
is innocent of such a possibility, narrating with an 
offhand casualness what would have been spot-light 
scenes in a post-Richardson novel, and though there 
are plenty of opportunities in her stories for a porno- 
graphic appeal, she makes no attempt to work upon the 
reader's feelings in this or any other way. Her 
touch is always cool and light. She is so innocent of 
literary devices that she never even seems to have 
decided whether she is writing comedy or tragedy; 
there is no poetic justice. Her stories are purely a 
triumph of manner and tone (a) ; she begins the de- 
lightful topical sketch The Court of the King of Bantam 
with the easy familiarity of conversation among 
equals : 

This money certainly is a most devilish thing! I'm sure 
the want of it had like to have ruined my dear Philibella, in 
her love to Valentine Goodland; who was really a pretty 
deserving gentleman, heir to about fifteen hundred pounds 

(a) ' Tone/ vide Pt. III. 



120 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

a year; which, however, did not so much recommend him, 
as the sweetness of his temper, the comeliness of his person, 
and the excellence of his parts. 

and ends The Nun, perhaps the best example among her 
novels of the peculiar poise of the Restoration wit, with 
a touch of something too delicate to be called burlesque 
that throughout her fiction balances the luxuriant 
romance of the plot. Sebastian and Henrique were 
rivals for the hand of the perjured Ardelia shut up in a 
convent along with Henrique's jilted mistress Elvira ; 
Elvira has betrayed to Henrique her brother Sebastian's 
plot to elope with her rival ; Ardelia is killed in the 
struggle and 

They fought with the greatest animosity on both sides, 
and with equal advantage ; for they both fell together : ' Ah, 
my Ardelia, I come to thee now ! ' Sebastian groaned out. 
* 'Twas this unlucky arm, which now embraces thee, that 
killed thee/ * Just Heaven ! ' she sighed out, * Oh, yet have 
mercy.' [Here they both died.] * Amen/ cried Henrique, 
dying, * I want it most Oh, Antonio ! Oh ! Elvira ! Ah, 
there's the weight that sinks me down. And yet I wish 
forgiveness. Once more, sweet Heaven, have mercy ! ' He 
could not outlive that last word; which was echoed by 
Elvira, who all this while stood weeping, and calling out for 
help, as she stood close to the wall in the gaiden. 

This alarmed the rest of the sisters, who rising, caused the 
bells to be rung out, as upon dangerous occasions it used to 
be; which raised the neighbourhood, who came time enough 
to remove the dead bodies of the two rivals, and of the late 
fallen angel Ardelia. The injured and neglected Elvira, 
whose piety designed quite contrary effects, was immediately 
seized with a violent fever, which, as it was violent, did not 
last long: for she died within four-and-twenty hours, with 
all the happy symptoms of a departing saint. 

It is the poise of an aristocratic society. The gulf 



GROWTH OF THE READING PUBLIC 121 

between Defoe the journalist of the bourgeois and 
Aphra Behn the journalist of the court seems impossible 
to be bridged, and it is the achievement of Steele and 
Addison that they succeeded in striking a compromise, 
invaluable while it lasted. The importance of their 
work is suggested by the letter * very explanatory of 
the true Design of our Lucubrations ' in Tatler 64^ 
where the writer having applauded the ' wholesome 
Project of making Wit useful ' continues : ' I smile 
when I see a solid Citizen of Threescore read the 
Article from Will's Coffee-house^ and seem to be just 
beginning to learn his Alphabet of Wit in Spectacles ; 
and to hear the attentive Table sometimes stop him 
with pertinent Queries, which he is puzzled to answer/ 
As early as No. 5 the characteristic note is struck in a 
review of Swift's Project for the Advancement of Religion : 

It is written with the Spirit of one who has seen the World 
enough to undervalue it with good Breeding. The Author 
must certainly be a Man of Wisdom as well as Piety, and have 
spent much Time in the Exercise of both. The real Causes 
of the Decay of the Interest of Religion are set forth in a 
clear and lively manner, without unseasonable Passions ; and 
the whole Air of the Book, as to the Language, the Senti- 
ments, and the Reasonings, shews it was written by one 
whose Virtue sits easy about him, and to whom Vice is 
thoroughly contemptible. It was said by one of this Com- 
pany, alluding to that Knowledge of the World the Author 
seems to have, the Man writes much like a Gentleman, and 
goes to Heaven with a very good Mien. 

Addison 's and Steele's compromise, then, is related 
to Aphra Behn on the one hand and Defoe on the 
other (using them as symbols of different cultures), but 
less interesting than the former and less stable than the 
latter. In order to include Sir Andrew Freeport in the 



122 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

Club poise was sacrificed to sedateness, and this often 
results in a precarious complacency at which one is 
moved to laugh, or a sermonising dulness which 
gradually gained the upper hand : the Tatler is much 
livelier and subtler than the Spectator, and compared 
with it often surprisingly risque, so that whereas the 
latter naturally suggests Goldsmith and Johnson the 
former looks back to Congreve ; while the Guardian is 
practically unreadable. What happened is that the 
balance descended heavily on the bourgeois side : 
Richardson's novels, Goldsmith's verse, Johnson's 
essays^ are bourgeois art. But meanwhile, the culture 
of the Tatler was a compound. The moral aim evident 
throughout the two papers is not, as in Defoe, separated 
from the polite world, the stress falls not on morals but 
on mceurs. As Addison claimed in the dedication to 
the first volume of the Spectator, it was ' a Work 
which endeavours to Cultivate and Polish Human 
Life.' And a more explicit statement occurs in 
Spectator 58 : 

As the great and only End of these my Speculations is to 
banish Vice and Ignorance out of the Territories of Great 
Britain, I shall endeavour as much as possible to establish 
among us a Taste of polite Writing. 

He succeeded. The influence of this triumph of 
' the Familiar Way of Writing ' is to be seen through- 
out the eighteenth century, not merely in the two 
hundred odd periodicals started in imitation of the 
Spectator, but in the lucid, easy, uncoloured prose of 
the novels, belles-lettres, journals, and correspondence 
for nearly a century afterwards. Like Addison's and 
Steele's, it was based on contemporary speech, 71 until 
Johnson and Burke made a fresh start on an oratorical 



GROWTH OF THE READING PUBLIC 123 

basis. The rate of penetration can be guessed from the 
sales. In Spectator 10 Addison writes : ' My Publisher 
tells me that there are already Three thousand of them 
distributed every Day : So that if I allow Twenty 
Readers to every Paper, which I look upon as a modest 
computation, 72 I may reckon about Threescore 
thousand Disciples in London and Westminster' It 
appears to have risen steadily to 20,000 or even 
30,000, which by Addison's modest computation 
gives half a million or more readers. In addition there 
are the sales in volume form to consider : ' an Edition 
of the former Volumes of Spectators of above Nine 
thousand each Book, is already sold off ' (Spectator 555). 
Now the population of England in 1 700 was not much 
over six millions, and a little mental arithmetic will 
prove how immediately pervasive the influence was. 
In the history of the self-educated in the eighteenth and 
early nineteenth centuries, which has been traced in the 
previous chapter, volumes of the Tatler and Spectator 
were observed to turn up in the homes of the re- 
spectable poor as their early reading, so numerous 
were the editions. Even now it is cheaper to buy an 
eighteenth-century set of the two papers than a 
modern edition. 

It is important to notice that the Tatler and Spectator 
and their innumerable imitators stood for serious 
standards, however playfully they may have supported 
them. They made possible the eighteenth-century 
novel in more ways than one. To begin with, they 
combined two hitherto separate reading publics 
(Aphra Behn's and Bunyan's), and gave it a code which 
may without much fear of contradiction be termed a 
desirable one ; they were preoccupied with life as their 



124 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

readers lived it, and endeavoured to be helpful in the 
rather naive manner suggested here : 

I am heartily concerned when I see a virtuous man with- 
out a competent knowledge of the world; and if there can 
be any use in these papers, it is this: that without represent- 
ing vice under any false alluring notions, they give my reader 
an insight into the ways of men, and represent human nature 
in all its changeable colours. . . . The Virtuous and the 
Innocent may know in speculation what they could never 
arrive at by practice, and by this means avoid the snares of 
the crafty, the corruptions of the vicious, and the reasonings 
of the prejudiced. Their minds may be opened without 
being vitiated (a). 

This code is defined by such characteristic dicta as : 
* What I should contend for is, the more virtuous the 
man is the nearer will he be to the character of genteel 
and agreeable, ' * to undervalue the world with good 
breeding/ ' a Philosopher, by which I mean a gentle- 
man/ Now in uniting the reading public by means of 
this code the writers of the Tatler and Spectator were 
putting into currency a certain set of terms. Or to 
put it more precisely, they were finding an idiom for 
common standards of taste and conduct. It is on the 
general recognition and acceptance of this particular 
idiom that the novelists from Richardson to Scott and 
Jane Austen depend ; by means of journalism the 
conventions were established which enabled the 
eighteenth-century novelist to use quite simply words 
and phrases like * honour,' ' manly virtue,' ' the man 
of candour and true understanding,' and to write such 
an urbane shorthand as Addison's, * I shall always 
make reason, truth and nature the measures of praise 
and dispraise/ and be sure of being understood, 

(a) Spectator 245. 



GROWTH OF THE READING PUBLIC 125 

Fielding's effects, for instance, depend on the simplifica- 
tion he was thus able to achieve without sacrificing pre- 
cision. In comparison, the twentieth-century novelist's 
vocabulary is loosely emotive, and the highbrow 
novelist is obliged either to employ such absolute 
terms ironically or else to go out of his way to avoid 
them. 

And the give-and-take of journalism when it took 
the form of essays written * in an air of common 
speech ' (a) provided the novelist with the best of all 
styles, combining the maximum flexibility with com- 
plete absence of pretension. The * polite writing ' for 
which Addison set out to establish a taste meant merely 
good writing, simple, decent, and realistic. To open at 
random a story by a popular writer between the Tatler 
and Richardson is almost inevitably to alight on prose 
of this kind. [The heroine's coach has been jostled 
off a bridge into the river] : 

By good Luck, this Bridge was at the Entry of a little 
Village, so that People hastened to their Assistance; some 
helping the Horses, some the Coach, and some with Diffi- 
culty getting out Galesia; who, however, when she was got 
out, found no Hurt, only was very wet: She was much 
pity'd by the good People; amongst whom there was a poor 
Woman took her under the Arm, and told her she would 
conduct her to a House, where she might be accomodated 
with all Manner of Conveniences. 

All wet and dropping, she got to this House, which was a 
poor Village- Alehouse; and a poor one indeed it was; It 
being Evening, the Woman of the House was gone out a 
Milking, so that the good Man could come at no Sheets, 
that she might have got rid of her wet Cloths, by going to 
Bed; However, he laid on a large Country Faggot; so she 

(a) Tatler 5. 



126 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

sat and smoaked in her wet Cloaths, 'till the good Woman 
came; who hastened and got the Bed Sheeted, into which 
she gladly laid herself 5 but the poorest that her Bones ever 
felt, there being a few Flocks that stank ; and so thin of 
the same, that she felt the Cords cut through. The Blankets 
were of Thread-bare Home-spun stuff, which felt and smelt 
like a Pancake fry'd in Grease; There were Four Curtains 
at the Four Corners, from whence they could no more stir, 
than Curtains in a Picture; for there were neither Rods nor 
Ropes for them to run upon ; no Testern, but the Thatch 
of the House; A Chair with a Piece of a Bottom, and a 
brown chamber-pot furr'd as thick as a Crown Piece (a). 

The fabric of Fielding's and Smollett's work is of 
this nature. And even Richardson, though he is 
working on the easy responses associated with the 
word ' sentimental ' his chief contribution to the 
novel was the discovery of the Tears of Sensibility 
nevertheless has the virtues of this prose and this 
manner. Even an apparent departure from it such as 
Sterne's will be found on inspection only to be an ex- 
tension of the possibilities of this manner. 

The history of popular taste in fiction from Aphra 
Behn to Fielding is sufficiently illustrated by the 
writings of Mrs. Haywood, the female Defoe. Like 
him she was obliged to earn her living by the pen, and 
so followed current fashion with amazing fertility; 
like him she produced her best work at the end of a long 
career its merits have never been recognised since 
her own day. She started on little romances adapted 
from the French, and drawing on her dramatic ex- 
perience produced that stylisation of heroic romance 

(a) ' A Patch-Work SCREEN for the LADIES j or LOVE and VIRTUE 
Recommended : In a COLLECTION of Instructive NOVELS.' By Mrs. Jane 
Barker, of Wilsthorp, near Stamford, in Lincolnshire.* 1723. 



GROWTH OF THE READING PUBLIC 127 

which, always acceptable to the unsophisticated, 
petered out in Victorian melodrama. Love in Excess 
(1719) is a type-title, 73 and it reached a sixth edition 
in 1 725, She continued with the popular * Secret His- 
tories ' and about 1729 abandoned these for the real- 
istic ' Memoirs ' and 4 Lives of ' ; and finally, after the 
publication of Pamela^ she turned to domestic fiction 
and wrote among other things two little masterpieces 
The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless (1751 4th ed. 
1768) and The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy 
(1753 2nd ed. same year, etc.). They are usually 
dismissed as imitations of Fielding and Richardson, 
but this is to simplify unduly. The eighteenth-century 
ethos had undergone a considerable simplification 
since the Tatler the settling-down process is evident 
in the tone of the Spectator and its imitators and the 
same environment in fact equally produced Richardson, 
Fielding, Smollett, Mrs. Haywood, and ultimately 
Goldsmith and Jane Austen. Mrs. Haywood was not 
imitating Pamela and Tom Jones but taking advantage 
of a newly perceived taste, that of Defoe's public steer- 
ing another course : the stress still falls on life as 
known to the reader (#), even in the most popular 
fiction, but the reader's interests have shifted from the 
regulation of property to the regulation of the feelings 
(they are nevertheless the same kind of interests). 
These writers are as firmly based as Defoe. Instead of 
the romantic idealism the modern reader expects they 
display sensibility controlled by decorum, a decorum 
directly related to Addison's sedateness, and which in 
some form or other is found discreetly restraining 

(a) Not, of course, life measured by events, but by scope and in- 
tensitv. 



128 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

eighteenth-century taste in every field. A typical 
utterance of the Idler may explain what is meant : 

It is very difficult to determine the exact degree of en- 
thusiasm that the arts of painting and poetry may admit. . . . 
An intimate knowledge of the passions, and good sense, but 
not common sense, must at last determine its limits (a). 

Now this voices an attitude completely antithetical 
to that described on p. 68. And it explains the dis- 
comfort, a succession of slight shocks and jars, which 
the modern reader of eighteenth-century novels finds 
he has exposed himself to. The eighteenth-century 
novelist is continually pulling up the reader, dis- 
appointing his expectations or refusing him the luxury 
of day-dreaming and not infrequently douching him 
with cold water. When in The History of Miss Betsy 
Thoughtless, on Betsy's unfaithful husband sending for 
her to comfort his last hours and her responding 
with great good nature, we learn of her old admirer 
Trueworth : * when he heard this cruel husband was no 
more, and, at the same time, was informed in what 
manner she behaved, both in his last moments, and 
after his decease, nothing, not even his love, could 
equal his admiration of her virtue and her prudence ' ; 
or when at the happy ending of The History of Jemmy 
and Jenny Jessamy, Jenny composedly declares to 
Jemmy before marrying him : " I shall not be so un- 
reasonable as to expect more constancy from you, than 
human nature and your constitution will allow ' ; then 
one seems for a moment to put one's finger on the 
eighteenth-century virtue, predominant in any novel 
till the death of Smollett, the source equally of Jane 
Austen's strength and of Maria Edgeworth's, disguised 

(a) Idler, No. 80, 



GROWTH OF THE READING PUBLIC 129 

by romantic trappings in Scott and finally lost to the 
succeeding age. It consists in the absence of romantic 
idealism, and in consequence the presence of a rational 
code of feeling ; words really mean something, and a 
particular vocabulary is at the novelist's disposal that 
enables him to deal with any situation with dignity. 
The temperature of even the critical scenes is decidedly 
cool, for the rhetoric of sensibility employs an abstract 
vocabulary which effectually maintains an emotional 
decorum. When Mrs. Haywood retires from an 
avowal of love with ' After this a considerable time 
was passed in all those mutual endearments which 
honour and modesty would permit ' (#), or Jane Austen 
disposes of a delicate interval in the history of her hero 
and heroine so ' I purposely abstain from dates on 
this occasion, that every one may be at liberty to fix 
their own, aware that the cure of unconquerable 
passions, and the transfer of unchanging attachments, 
must vary much as to time in different people ' (b\ or 
when Maria Edgeworth describes some one as 
' pressing her hand with all the tenderness which 
humanity could dictate ' (r), they are preserving their 
distance from the emotional situations they are hand- 
ling, and the reader's own mode of feeling is not 
tampered with. It is essentially the critical temper that 
produced and maintained this code of good taste and 
good sense a sense of standards even in the realm of 
emotion. The ideal of ' a well-regulated mind ' ex- 
plicitly mentioned by Maria Edgeworth and Jane 
Austen 74 is implicit in the works of their immediate 
predecessors ; in comparison with any of them the 

(a) The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless. (b) Mansfield Park, 

(c) Belinda. 



130 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

novels of Charlotte Bronte, for instance, exhibit a 
shameful self-abandonment to undisciplined emotion 
which makes these latter seem the productions of a 
schoolgirl of genius. The critical reader is never in 
any novel before 1820 made uncomfortable by 
crudities of feeling as he is in reading Dickens, 
Charlotte Brontg, Kingsley, or by the vulgarity and 
puerility that he winces at in Dickens, Thackeray, 
Kingsley, Meredith . . . indeed almost any Victorian 
novelist except Emily Bronte, Mrs. Gaskell, George 
Eliot. The decline and disappearance of the 
eighteenth-century code is part of the history of the 
reading public. 

It is the sudden growth of the reading, and 
particularly the novel-reading, public in the second half 
of the eighteenth century that started a series of 
changes in such important matters as the relation of 
author to publisher, the scope and nature of the 
periodical, the expectations of the reader, and the aims 
and object of the novelist. The change may be 
noticed, for instance, in the difference between the 
tone of the Tatler and of the Idler^ the one talking at 
his ease to a circle of friends and the other consciously 
raising his voice for the benefit of a public assembly ; 
or it may be more forcibly brought home by the fact 
that the average daily sale of newspapers practically 
doubled between 1753 and 1775 * n a near *ly stationary 
population. Such statistical evidence as is available 
that bears on the growth of the reading public at this 
period has been collected by Mr. A. S. Collins in his 
two works, Authorship in the Age of Johnson 1726-1780 
and The Profession of Letters 1780-1830, but to the 
literary critic the internal evidence is even more con- 



GROWTH OF THE READING PUBLIC 131 

vincing as well as more interesting. Briefly, the case 
was that the Spectator with its general popularity had 
given a fillip to the taste for fiction, as Addison himself 
noted, and Richardson's opportune discovery of a 
technique for examining the heart that should also 
make improving reading finally decided the direction 
of popular taste. So great was the demand for such 
novels that the book clubs and subscription libraries 
that existed up and down the country to serve a timid 
but solid taste for literature were metamorphosed into 
the modern circulating library. They increased 
enormously, and in addition the booksellers seeing 
their chance set up their own, so that in 1761 the 
Annual Register remarks as a matter of course that ' the 
reading female hires her novel from some County 
Circulating Library, which consists of about a hundred 
volumes' and Sheridan in The Rivals (1775) makes 
Lucy report to her mistress, ' I don't believe there's a 
circulating library in Bath I haven't been at.' Now so 
long as there were good novels to provide the circulat- 
ing library was an excellent institution, and, fortunately, 
for many years there were four serious novelists at 
work who kept the standard of fiction at a very high 
level. As we have seen, when a Mrs. Kaywood sat 
down to write a novel she could produce admirable 
fiction, because she was in touch with the best work of 
her age ; the Mrs. Haywoods changed their technique 
as soon as a Richardson or a Sterne provided them with 
a new one ; they were quick to seize the advantage of a 
fresh method, which is what only a genius can invent : 
the journalist of fiction can only create literature when 
he has a living tradition to work in. In the light of the 
situation discussed in Part L, it is interesting to notice 



132 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

the simplicity of the eighteenth-century literary map. 
The bestsellers of the twentieth century do not change 
their courses because D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, 
or James Joyce has written ; indeed they have probably 
never heard of these novelists, and as we have seen, 
their readers certainly have not. The eighteenth- 
century public was still homogeneous : in the depths of 
the country those who could read read Pamela aloud 
to those who could not, and Lackington the book- 
seller writes in his autobiography in 1791, rather 
surprisingly : 

I cannot help observing, that the sale of books in general 
has increased prodigiously within the last twenty years. 
According to the best estimation I have been able to make, I 
suppose that more than four times the number of books are 
sold now than were sold twenty years since. The poorer sort 
of farmers, and even the poor country people in general, 
who before that period spent their winter evenings in relating 
stories of witches, ghosts, hobgoblins, &c. now shorten the 
winter nights by hearing their sons and daughters read tales, 
romances, &c., and on entering their houses, you may see 
Tom Jones, Roderick Random, and other entertaining books 
stuck up on their bacon racks, &c. If John goes to town 
with a load of hay, he is charged to be sure not to forget to 
bring home Peregrine Pickle's Adventures; and when Dolly 
is sent to market to sell her eggs, she is commissioned to pur- 
chase The History of Pamela Andrews. In short all ranks 
and degrees now READ. 

But a taste for novel-reading as distinct from a 
taste for literature is not altogether desirable. In this 
case it meant that when Smollett died and there was no 
writer of any considerable ability to succeed him, the 
insatiable demand for fiction now the publisher's 
mainstay had to be satisfied by the second-rate. 



GROWTH OF THE READING PUBLIC 133 

Hacks were employed to provide the circulating 
library, which now became a symbol for worthless 
fiction, with constant supplies of fresh novels. The 
process is somewhat telescoped and the facts greatly 
exaggerated in the following extract from Clara 
Reeve's The Progress of Romance (1785), but it shows 
in what light a cultivated woman regarded the circulat- 
ing library in the last quarter of the century : 

Euphrasia, * They [novels] did but now increase upon 
us, but ten years more multiplied them tenfold. Every work 
of merit produced a swarm of imitators, till they became a 
public evil, and the institution of Circulating Libraries 
conveyed them in the cheapest manner to every bodies 
hand.' 

Hortentius. ' I rejoice that you do not defend Circu- 
lating Libraries, if you had, I would have fought against 
them with more success, than I have ever met with hitherto, 
when I have been your opponent.' 

Euph. * I am entirely of your opinion, they are one 
source of the vices and follies of our present times.' 

Euph. 4 The year 1 766 (a) was very prolific in the Novel 
way, and indeed they seem to have over-run the press, till 
they became a drug in the terms of the trade. The Reviewers 
complained bitterly of the fatigue of reading them, it became 
necessary to have an Annual Supply for the Circulating 
Library, in consequence the manufacturers of Novels were 
constantly at work for them, and were very poorly paid for 
their labours.' (b) 

The change that the circulating library made in the 

(a) Clara Reeve has antedated the process. 

(b) On the contrary, for at this period novels even by unknown writers 
fetched nearly as high prices as poetry was to command m the next genera- 
tion. Vide A. S. Collins, The Profession of Letters, p. 97, etc. 



134 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

reading habits of the semi-educated, but particularly 
of women, the chief novel-readers, had far-reaching 
effects. A comparison of bestsellers of the 1 770-1 795 
period with those of the previous twenty years will 
reveal a narrowing down process : Sterne is replaced 
by Henry Mackenzie and his imitators, Richardson 
by writers like Mrs. Sheridan (#), Henry Brooke and 
Richard Cumberland, Fielding and Smollett by Mrs. 
Radcliffe, Mrs, Inchbald, Charlotte Smith (and 
eventually Scott). That is to say, whereas the response 
of the reader of the 'fifties had been a complex one, it 
now became a simple response to the extremely un- 
skilful and clumsy call for tears, pity, shudders, and so 
forth. The immense popularity of Sterne, which 
elicited one volume of Tristram Shandy after another, is 
astonishing to the twentieth century, in which its only 
readers are probably those specifically concerned with 
literature, for to the general reader it is interminably 
dull, without either plot or point. Sterne requires 
careful and persevering reading, but the reward is 
an extremely subtle kind of pleasure, since Sterne's 
success consists in harmonising a variety of moods and 
bringing off chameleon-like changes of feeling () with 
a juggler's dexterity ; a whole public that clamoured 
for more and more parts of Tristram Shandy is now 
almost inconceivable. But it did not last long. A 
proof of what happened to that public lies in a little 
volume entitled 'The BEAUTIES of STERNE; includ- 
ing all his Pathetic Tales, and most distinguished 
OBSERVATIONS on LIFE. Selected for the Heart of 

(a) Mrs. Sheridan's Memoirs of Miss Sidney Riddutyh was published in 
1761, but she is an early instance of the disintegrating process that later set 
in all round. 

(b) ' Feeling *ndf Pt. III. 



GROWTH OF THE READING PUBLIC 135 

Sensibility/ The compiler, a Mr. W. H., explains in 
the preface : 

I intended to have arranged them alphabetically, till I 
found the stories of Le Fever, the Monk, and Maria, would 
be too closely connected for the feeling reader, and would 
wound the bosom of sensibility too deeply : I therefore placed 
them at a proper distance from each other. 

This one-sided version of Sterne was so popular that 
by 1782 it had reached a fourth edition (#), and it 
proves how much easier it was found to read Sterne for 
the wrong reasons than for the right ones that is, to 
make a partial instead of a complete response. The 
heart of sensibility could be as satisfactorily catered for 
by Henry Mackenzie, who separated out of Sterne's 
balanced whole the most popular elements. In con- 
sequence, whereas to read Tristram Shandy is a bracing 
mental exercise, The Man of Feeling represents only a 
refined form of emotional self-indulgence. The same 
kind of relation exists between them as between Don 
Juan and Prometheus Unbound, Tristram Shandy being 
just such a hit-or-miss switchback performance as 
Byron's. Don Juan can be read in various ways (one 
of them will yield precisely the same kind of pleasure 
as Shelley's poetry), but when read so as to give a 
complete response the poem is peculiarly invigorating ; 
Prometheus Unbound can only be read in one way, and 
its characteristic effect is the opposite of invigorating 
one might describe it as intoxicating or boring accord- 
ing to the suitability of the reader. 

The history of the influence of Richardson is rather 
different, and Richardson himself assisted the circulat- 
ing library novel to take shape. Grandison> though 

(a) And by 1793 a lath edition. 



136 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

hardly Pamela, paved the way for the kind of fiction 
that Hannah More attacked in her Cheap Repository 
penny tracts. Her objections are those of a sound 
eighteenth-century realist, and though they dispose of 
the successors of Richardson, it is important to realise 
that they leave Richardson himself almost untouched. 

* The people talk such gibberish as no folks in their sober 
senses ever talked, and the things that happen to them are 
not like the things that ever happen to any of my acquaint- 
ance. They are at home one minute, and beyond the sea 
the next. Beggars to-day, and Lords to-morrow. Waiting- 
maids in the morning, and Dutchesses at night. You and I, 
Master Worthy, have worked hard many years, and think 
it very well to have scraped a trifle of money together, you a 
few hundreds, I suppose, and I a few thousands. But one 
would think every man in these books had the Bank of 
England in his scrutore. Then there's another thing which 
I never met with in true life. We think it pretty well, you 
know, if one has got one thing, and another has got another. 
I'll tell you how I mean. You are reckoned sensible, our 
Parson is learned, the Squire is rich, I am generous, one of 
your daughters is pretty, and both mine are genteel. But in 
these books (except here and there one, whom they make 
worse than Satan himself) every man and woman's child of 
them, are all wise, and witty, and generous, and rich, and 
handsome, and genteel. Nobody is middling, or good in one 
thing, and bad in another, like my live acquaintance, but 'tis 
all up to the skies, or down to the dirt. I had rather read 
Tom Hickathrift, or Jack the Giant Killer.' [The Two 
Wealthy Farmery 1795 (?).] 

But the effect of the circulating library habit was 
deeper than this suggests. The readiness to read a 
good novel had become a craving for fiction of any kind, 
and a habit of reading poor novels not only destroys 
the ability to distinguish between literature and trash, 
it creates a positive taste for a certain kind of writing, 



GROWTH OF THE READING PUBLIC 137 

if only because it does not demand the effort of a fresh 
response, as the uneducated ear listens with pleasure 
only to a tune it is familiar with. The function of the 
popular novel of the late eighteenth century is ade- 
quately dealt with by Coleridge in Biographia Literaria, 
Chapter xxn. : 

For as to the devotees of the circulating libraries, I dare 
not compliment their pass-time, or rather kill-time, with the 
name of reading. Call it rather a sort of beggarly day- 
dreaming, during which the mind of the dreamer furnishes 
for itself nothing but laziness, and a little mawkish sensi- 
bility; while the whole material and imagery of the doze is 
supplied ab extra by a sort of mental camera obscura manu- 
factured at the printing office, which pro tempore fixes, 
reflects, and transmits the moving phantasms of one man's 
delirium, so as to people the barrenness of a hundred other 
brains afflicted with the same trance or suspension of common 
sense and all definite purpose. We should therefore transfer 
this species of amusement from the genus reading, to that 
comprehensive class characterised by the power of reconcil- 
ing the two contrary yet co-existing propensities of human 
nature, namely, indulgence of sloth, and hatred of vacancy. 

And he explains himself in more detail in the first of 
the Lectures on Shakespeare and Milton : 

I will run the risk of asserting, that where the reading of 
novels prevails as a habit, it occasions in time the entire de- 
struction of the powers of the mind ; it is such an utter loss 
to the reader, that it is not so much to be called pass-time as 
kill-time. It conveys no trustworthy information as to 
facts; it produces no improvement of the intellect, but fills 
the mind with a mawkish and morbid sensibility, which is 
directly hostile to the cultivation, invigoration and enlarge- 
ment of the nobler faculties of the understanding. 

Now such a charge could not possibly have been 
levelled at the novel before Henry Mackenzie began 



138 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

to write. Tristram Shandy, Peregrine Pickle, Tom Jones, 
Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy, to take a few of the out- 
standing popular successes, are extremely wide-awake 
productions. They are written in accordance with the 
principles of the contributor to the Idler quoted above 
4 an intimate knowledge of the passions, and good 
sense, but not common sense ' are assumed to be 
qualities possessed by both author and reader. Even 
Pamela is not merely the serving-maid's version of 
4 Cinderella/ as a bare account of its plot might 
suggest ; compare Pamela with The Sheik, which in 
the year of its publication was to be seen in the hands of 
every typist and may be taken as embodying the typist's 
day-dream, and it is obvious that Pamela is only in- 
cidentally serving the purpose for which The Sheik 
exists and even then serving it very indifferently. And 
apart from Richardson, no other novelist of that age 
even provides a scaffolding for castle-building. On 
the contrary, as we have seen, these novelists and such 
of their successors who did not write for the circulating 
library Maria Edgeworth, Jane Austen, Hannah 
More are concerned to destroy any comforting 
illusions the reader may cherish, to make the reader 
more aware of, more fully alive to, and therefore better 
fitted to cope with, the world he lives in. 

It was inevitable that the popular novel should 
become stereotyped, and that it should hit out the 
constituents of the commonest form of fantasying ; it 
was the easiest kind of plot for a hack to produce just 
as day-dreaming is infinitely easier than thinking and 
the pleasantest for a lazy reader to take in. 76 The hero 
or heroine with whom the reader can identify himself, 
the romantic love-story with a happy or else a movingly 



GROWTH OF THE READING PUBLIC 139 

tragic ending, the naively good and bad characters and 
the romantic jargon, became the inevitable foundation 
of any but a highly exceptional novel for the next 
hundred years. It became impossible for a novelist 
not to conform with this convention ; Scott could not 
the introduction to Waverley and the conclusion to Old 
Mortality suggest he dared not refuse to give the 
public what it wanted, and he was no genius, merely, 
as an inspection of Mrs. Radcliffe's novels shows, 
another Mrs, Radcliffe. So he put his novels together 
in the easiest way, and his originality consisted in 
finding new backgrounds to set off the old conventions, 
as hers had been. Nothing is more obvious than that 
he was bored with his central characters, his plot 
and situations. His interest was driven out on to the 
margins of his story, where he could slip in a character 
or two he had observed and relapse from the language 
of romance into the dialect that was spoken around 
him and to which his ear was therefore sensitised. 
Smollett's freedom was complete : his interest is 
visible in every line he wrote ; beside him Scott appears 
hemmed in, his prose is curiously fatigued the 
clumsy, unrealised descriptions of thrilling actions, the 
rhetorical outbursts in * the language of passion/ the 
conscientious oil-paintings of historical scenes and 
characters, drag their slow lengths along often ridicu- 
lously (a). He not only wrote fast and carelessly 
Smollett did that too, and Smollett's vigorous prose 
runs freely without being slipshod but he gave his 
work a merely perfunctory attention. The popular 
novel at that date had no room for a writer's interests. 

(a) Vide especially the dramatic scene from Ivanhoe in The Oxford Book 
of Engltsh Prose, p. 532. 



HO FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

And so the eighteenth-century idiom, so admirably 
suited for the literature of a society that abhorred 
4 enthusiasm,' began to lose its edge : in Addison and 
Fielding it is everything, in Scott it has become a 
wearily sustained convention. It was said previously 
that in the eighteenth century words really meant 
something, and yet in the early nineteenth century the 
same words seem to have become counters. Take the 
most simple instance : Fielding's aim, in his own 
words, was ' to recommend goodness and in- 
nocence ' (a) ; by Scott's time, while the same object 
was still the avowed one of every novelist, yet the 
phrase has no longer any precise meaning the idiom 
has become a conventional currency like that of the 
Musical Banks. Or to put the case more glaringly, 
one may compare the heroines of the two ages who 
embody this ideal, Clarissa, Sophia, and the Emily of 
Peregrine Pickle on the one hand, and any Scott young 
lady heroine on the other. Mrs. Radcliffe represents 
the intermediate stage, where though the circulating 
library conventions are in full possession yet there is 
still something alive in the body of the book. The 
superb absence of any historical sense is the saving of 
The Mysteries of Udolpho. It proves conclusively that 
late eighteenth-century taste was still sure of itself, 
that there was a culture strong enough to absorb every- 
thing alien. Mrs. Radcliffe has no perceptible mis- 
givings in treating a story of the year 1568 as the history 
of a contemporary young lady of delicate sensibility ; 
the French and Italian aristocracy meet to discuss over 
tea and coffee the opera and Parisian fashions, Vhile 
Emily's papa has an exquisite taste for Gothic ruins. 

(a) Joseph Jndrruu. 



GROWTH OF THE READING PUBLIC 141 

But the elasticity of the idiom handled by Sterne and 
Richardson is gone for ever. The language has 
hardened, it forms itself into lumpy periods whereas 
Addison and Fielding write as they spoke, Johnson 
and Jane Austen compose on paper. 

While the popular novel was bleaching the diction 
of the age a corresponding change was inevitably 
taking place in sensibility. The robust, clear-headed 
reader of Sterne and Fielding became and ever after 
remained prudish and romantic nothing bears better 
witness to the startling change than that Pamela is 
employed by the would-be seducer in The Sylph (1779) 
to corrupt the mind of the village maiden. Plenty of 
similar evidence exists Scott's grand-aunt with her 
' Take back your bonny Mrs. Behn,' 77 Tom Moore's 
rather startled note on the eccentric peer of the old 
school who lived at Ditchley ' reading aloud of an 
evening all " the good old coarse novels," Peregrine 
Pickle particularly ' (#), Jane Austen's astonishing 
censure of the Spectator all summed up by Coleridge 
as * the greater purity of morality in the present age, 
compared even with the last.' He continues : 

Let me ask, who now will venture to lead a number of 
the Spectator, or of the Tatler, to his wife and daughters, 
without first examining it to make sure that it contains no 
word which might, in our day, offend the delicacy of female 
ears, and shock feminine susceptibility? Even our theatres, 
the representations at which usually reflect the morals of the 
period, have taken a sort of domestic turn, and while the 
performances at them may be said, in some sense, to improve 
the heart, there is no doubt that they vitiate the taste (b). 

It was not that the multiplication of female readers 

(a) Diary, May 3Oth, 1829. 

(b) Lectures on Shakespeare and Milton, The First Lecture. 



H2 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

made it necessary for the novelist to consider feminine 
delicacy and susceptibility; in the days when Lady 
Mary Wortley Montagu received in one box 
Peregrine Pickle, Roderick Random, Clarissa, and 
Pompey the Little, among others (a), there was a large 
public of women to admire Richardson and Sterne as 
well as, like her, to criticise them. The limitation of 
all the complicated appeals that the novel can make to a 
specific simple few an appeal that arouses only noble 
and pathetic feelings, for instance means not only a 
serious limitation of the novelist's scope, it must mean 
ultimately, where fiction is the chief or only form of 
art that the general public encounters, an all-round 
impoverishment of emotional life. 

It must not be supposed, however, that so drastic a 
change took place instantly. It only appeared at the 
time as a sudden drop in the novel's prestige and the 
definition of a way in which the novelist understood he 
had to tread if he wished for popularity. There was 
still the same high level of cultured opinion, repre- 
sented and sustained by the reviews the Gentleman's 
Magazine started in 1731 was soon followed by the 
London Magazine, in 1749 the Monthly Review in- 
augurated a new phase in the history of the Press, and 
in 1756 a rival, the Critical Review, appeared, and so 
to the more formidable Edinburgh (i 802), the Quarterly 
(1809), and the specifically Literary Gazette and 
Blackwood's (1817). As late as 1817 Isaac D'Israeli 
was writing on ' Literary Journals ' in this vein : 

The invention of Reviews, in the form which they have 
at length gradually assumed, could not have existed but in 
the most polished ages of literature; for without a constant 

(a) February 1752. 



GROWTH OF THE READING PUBLIC 143 

bupply of authors, and a refined spirit of criticism, they could 
not excite a perpetual interest among the lovers of literature. 
These publications are the chronicles of taste and science, 
and present the existing state of the public mind. . . . Multi- 
farious writings produced multifarious strictures, and public 
criticism reached to such perfection, that taste was generally 
diffused. . . . To the lovers of literature these volumes, 
when they have outlived their year, are not unimportant. 
They constitute a great portion of literary history, and are 
indeed the annals of the republic. . . . The Mont hly Review > 
the venerable mother of our journals, commenced in 1749, 
etc. (a). 

This not only suggests the authority and standing of 
the literary periodical, it shows that the eighteenth- 
century idiom was still current in 1817; in fact, 
eighteenth-century modes of feeling and thinking 
lasted, along with the Georgian architectural style, well 
into the nineteenth century. The phraseology of the 
periodical of the age is significant ' elegant literature/ 
' polite learning,' * polished society,* * the polite 
world/ ' a refined spirit of criticism ' ; it is the idiom 
of a society with critical standards so firmly imposed 
from above (it is essentially an aristocratic culture) 
that the mere idea of any serious challenge to them was 
almost unthinkable. So the circulating library novel 
became a subject for general ridicule * branded as a 
mere vehicle for frivolous, or seductive amusement 
... a species of writing which [is] never mentioned, 
even by its supporter, but with a look that fears 
contempt ' () in spite of the lip-service paid by 
every aspiring novelist to criticism in the form of a 
preface, or even an introductory chapter to each book, 

(a) Curiosities of Literature, p. 5. 

(b) Fanny Burncy, dedication to The W&ndtrer (1814). 



144 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

devoted to a discussion of such elementary points as 
the object of the novelist, his moral justification, the 
rules of novel-writing, and so forth. Yet this degree of 
seriousness seems remarkable in popular novelists, even 
though, as has been suggested, a fashion for such 
critical tit-bits had perhaps been set by Tom Jones and 
The Tale of a Tub. There was still only one public, 
which through the reviews took its standards from 
above. The reviews were intelligent, serious, and 
critical ; moreover, novels were still being published 
in manageable numbers, so that every novel received 
notice and all novels were criticised by the same 
standards. Whatever objections to those standards 
we may raise, the advantages of this state of affairs is 
apparent when compared with the state of anarchy 
described in Part I. Chapter II. The reviewers then 
were at least in agreement as to what was worth doing 
in fiction and what was not. I open the Monthly 
Review for the 1790*5 at random, and find Mrs. 
Radcliffe's The Italian under consideration. The 
writer as a preliminary to * placing ' the book begins 
by a description of * the genuine novel ' 

The most excellent, but at the same time the most 
difficult, species of novel-writing consists in an accurate and 
interesting representation of such manners and characters as 
society represents. [March 1797.] 

and He is thus able to recognise The Italian as an 
ingenious example of the second-rate. In the next 
number another novel, Memoirs of Emma Courtney by 
Mary Hays, is approved because : 

These memoirs rise above the class of vulgar novels, which 
aspire only to divert the unoccupied mind, by occasional 



GROWTH OF THE READING PUBLIC 145 

illusion, from an irksome attention to the daily occurrences 
and trivial incidents of real life. [April 1797.] 

The number of novels published began to go up in 
the middle of the 1780'$; in 1796 the Monthly 
noticed twice as many as in the previous year, and by 
1 800 novels had become so numerous and in such bad 
repute that the Scots and Gentleman* s magazines had 
practically ceased to notice them at all (a). Of the 
1300 odd novels noticed by the Monthly and the 
Critical reviews between 1770 and 1800, only four 
Evelina^ Fathek, Castle Rackrent, and Humphrey Clinker 
have survived, and these are for different reasons 
exceptional to the period. Throughout the 1790*5 the 
reviewers can be seen struggling to retain one set of 
values ; in the end they gave up for the time being not 
their respectability but the novel (&). 

What helped to stave off the demoralising effect of 
the circulating library was undoubtedly the technical 
incompetence of the novelists. After Richardson had 
shown the way they of course knew, as no one had 
known before, roughly how to evoke a certain kind of 
response. But they rather blundered towards their 
goal than went all out for it; not even the most 
efficient of them Mrs. Radcliffe shows a trace of 
the cunning business methods of the twentieth- 
century bestseller. 79 In consequence one can read the 
novels of Scott and his predecessors without forfeiting 
one's self-respect, whereas, as indicated in Part I., it is 
often impossible to say as much for their modern 

(a) I am greatly indebted for factual matter used here to an unpublished 
M.A. thesis of London University by W. H. Husbands, entitled * The 
Lesser Novel 1770-1800.' 

(b) But a generation later the novel industry had become organised, with 
dire effects on the reviewer^. 



i 4 6 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

counterparts. And an additional brake on progress 
was the important fact that a fair proportion of the 
population could not read : it received its education 
through hand and eye and word of mouth and did not 
complicate matters by creating a separate semi- 
literate public to interfere with the book market. 
Those who had a desire for learning could rise hand 
over hand like the Lackingtons and Drews considered 
in the previous chapter : the rate of absorption of the 
lowest class into the middle class was slow enough to 
prevent any lowering of standards. 

Three illustrations of the common reader's back- 
ground at the end of the century may be useful here. 
One is that when social workers began to teach the 
poor to read in large numbers, Hannah More was the 
writer who catered for the new public. Her delightful 
tales and novels issued as penny numbers (The Cheap 
Repository] from 1 794 to 1797 deal with the shepherds, 
farmers, labourers, servants, poachers, small shop- 
keepers, and their families whom she knew ; they are 
marked by what the Edinburgh Review called her 
1 amiable good sense,' and the more ambitious of 
them are excellent examples of the sub-acid critical 
attitude that characterises the best eighteenth-century 
writers ; 80 and they sold two millions in the first year 

0795)- 81 

Another is Eliza Fletcher's autobiography (a). She 

was born at Oxtoij in Yorkshire in 1770, the daughter 

(a) * Autobiography of Eliza Fletcher. Edited by the survivor of her 
family * (1875). The autobiography was written 1838 to 1857. She died in 
1858, and the editor supplemented the memoirs with family letters and the 
younger generation's recollections of their mother's tales and anecdotes. 
The volume is of great interest to the literary historian, since Mrs. Fletcher 
was one of the great Edinburgh hostesses. 



GROWTH OF THE READING PUBLIC 147 

of a yeoman farmer, and of the formative influences of 
her childhood she wrote : 

There were then no books for children but fairy-tales 
and ^Esop's and Gay's Fables. My father's library was 
upon a small scale the Spectator, Milton's Works, Shake- 
speare's Plays, Pope's and Dryden's Poems, Hervey's Medi- 
tations, Mrs. Rowe's Letters, Shenstone's Poems, Sherlock's 
Sermons, with some abridgements of history and geography, 
filled his little bookshelves. To these Mrs. Brudenell's [a 
neighbour's] store added a few other works, such as Robert- 
son's History of Scotland, Sully's Memoirs, Pope's Homer, 
etc. . . . Music and story- tell ing, recitations from Pope's 
Homer or Shakespeare's Plays, with sometimes a pool at 
commerce or a game of blind-man's buff, were our evening 
recreations. . . . [Of her visits to her maternal grandfather's] 
Mr. Hill was a man of very superior understanding, and an 
elegant classical scholar, a perfect gentleman in manners, 
with a mildness and quietness approaching to Quakerian. 
He had an utter contempt for the vanities and frivolities of 
life. He lost his wife when his four daughters and his only 
son were very young, and he then took as inmate a niece of 
his own, to be their guardian and companion. My mother, 
his eldest daughter, was the only one he ever sent to a board- 
ing school. He cultivated in them all a love of reading, a 
taste for simple pleasures, and a strong sense of usefulness 
and public good. 

A third is a communication from an anonymous 
correspondent in the Gentleman's Magazine for June 
1852 on ' Country Book-Clubs Fifty Years Ago ' : 

I thought of the quiet but deep influence which the 
Review and Magazine, and the few but well-selected books 
supplied by the Country Book-Club to the twenty-five or 
thirty families among which they circulated, exercised in 
their day. . . . Mostly the new books were read aloud, en 
families but this was only the case with those which were 
still passing through the hands of the members of the club, 
and were to be given up at the end of a stated time. . . . 



148 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

The orders issued to the bookseller of the market-town 
where the club assembled were not inconsiderable. In fact 
nearly all the new publications of English origin which were 
really worth having, in general literature and popular science, 
were included, and the families we have noted were never 
without a fair amount of books. But the greatest advantage 
by far to these families sprung from the yearly accumulation 
of all those among the books which were not absolutely 
worthless in a library kept at the aforesaid market-town. 
From thence the families of members were privileged to 
take them unrestricted. ... By the time I had myself 
arrived at the years of literary appetite and enjoyment, the 
club had been in existence a considerable time, and the 
accumulations were very respectable. But there was a great 
deficiency in our older literature. The library was in fact 
only a reflection of the years of its own life, which extended 
perhaps no further back than ninety years ago [i.e. to 1 765 c.]. 
We had many good books, however: Burke, and Gibbon, 
and Hume, and Robertson, and Dr. Johnson, and a long 
series of Annual Registers, Monthly and Critical Reviews, 
and Monthly and Gentleman's Magazines. Of voyages and 
travels there was no lack ; and, as I remember, the literature 
connected with the stirring period of the French Revolution 
occupied considerable space. Works of fiction were not 
numerous. We had neither Fielding nor Richardson, nor, I 
think, Smollett. To the best of my belief we began with 
Madame D'Arblay, with Madame de Genlis, and Dr. Moore, 
whose Zeluco and Edward were well read. Godwin also, 
with his political speculations and his powerful novels, Miss 
Edgeworth, in due time, with her exquisite fictions. . . . [He 
goes on to speak of what * the youthful readers of that day ' 
owed to such periodicals as the Gentleman** Magazine.'] I 
remember clearly what a respect I felt for the anxiety about 
accuracy in details which I there saw displayed. ... I liked 
the reverential tone of the whole, and did not find it so very 
dull after all; for there were curious anecdotes here and 
there, and some pretty pictures, and then, at that time, 
children's books were not so abundant; we, at least, had 
very few indeed. The father's food was that of the family. 



GROWTH OF THE READING PUBLIC 149 

Scarcely anything was ever ordered at the club which a 
gentleman would have hesitated in reading to his daughters; 
and this being well known, the children were left to select 
their own congenial matter. They took or left as they 
pleased. At all events, they had not a set of books * written 
down ' to children's supposed capacities, but a manly stamp 
was upon all. 

The most interesting part, indeed, of the whole subject of 
Country Book Societies at the period to which I refer is 
their strong influence on domestic and individual character. 
The absence of much outward stimulus at a time when 
country-houses were few and far between, when people were 
not always running up to London, and rarely even visiting 
the county-town, gave more time for this influence to oper- 
ate. Very few books were bought by farmers, or even 
gentlemen. Cheap literature was not, and some trouble 
was occasioned by the transit and exchange of one's volumes. 
Therefore, when the eight or ten miles of dull road had been 
passed over and the treasure obtained, one's mind was dis- 
posed really to make good use of what came. Then the 
book furnished material for conversation. It became a 
family friend, and its least details were matters of discussion. 

It is then only to a small portion of the reading 
public that the changes apply, to the patrons of the sea- 
side resorts and watering-places, to Farmer Bragwell's 
daughters and the Catherine Morlands. To oppose 
the circulating library there was a tradition whose 
strength was undiminished, since it depended on family 
life, which in essentials was scarcely different from 
what it had been for generations. The bulk of the 
educated class was scattered up and down the country 
forming little centres of culture from Edinburgh to 
Cornwall, each pursuing its own sober round of 
duties and pleasures, meeting in the evenings to sing 
and play, read aloud the latest books from the town, 
recite poetry, discuss politics, and keeping in touch 



ISO FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

through the critical review and the dignified news- 
paper. That is to say, the governing class was 
cultivated. 

Nevertheless, a menace to the old standards had 
appeared, voiced apologetically enough as early as 
1770 by Charles Jenner in The Placid Man : 

Life is full of cares and anxieties; man has occasion 
for, and a right to make use of, many expedients to 
make it pass with tolerable ease. Various are the schemes 
to which he applies for that purpose; one hunts, one shoots, 
one plays, one reads, one writes. Scarcely any one expects 
his mind to be made better by every one of them ; happy if it 
is made no worse; and in this light what more pleasant, 
what more innocent, than that amusement which is commonly 
called Castle-building? . , . For which amusement nothing 
affords so good materials as a novel. 



IV 

THE DISINTEGRATION OF THE 
READING PUBLIC 

' 

Economic Developments mating for Disintegration 

THE last chapter ended by announcing the dis- 
covery of a new* use for fiction the second of the 
four in the list on p. 48 but added that this applied 
only to the leisured class, and particularly to the more 
leisured sex. The general public read to improve or 
inform themselves, since a real social life saved them 
from the vacuity described in Part I. the way of life 
of the Dash wood family in Sense and Sensibility (i 8 1 1) 
is still that of the Edmonstones in The Heir of Redclyffe 
(1853). As for the lower orders, the draining of the 
country into the cities had begun in earnest with the 
nineteenth century, and the horrors of a brutal in- 
dustrialism (a) left no time, even if there had been 
facilities, for the traditional amusements and occupa- 
tions of the folk, and equally of course no leisure for 
novel-reading, while in rural England the halcyon 
age had passed away, succeeded by wars, a run of 
bad harvests and the enclosure of the commons, 82 
which left the independent peasant a farm labourer as 
wretched as the factory hand ; such conditions could 
produce painfully self-educated men like Francis Place 
and Thomas Cooper, but not a Boots Library public. 
For that a higher standard of living is necessary. 

(a) Fully described by J. L. and Barbara Hammond in The Age of 
the Chartists. 



15* FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

What saved the lower middle-class public for some 
time from a drug addiction to fiction was the simple 
fact of the exorbitant price of novels. Scott, trading 
on his immense popularity, had forced the price up to 
half a guinea a volume or 31$. 6d. a novel, which was 
adopted by Colburn, who specialised in publishing 
fiction, and remained the fixed rate for a new novel 
until the 'nineties. The ordinary public could not 
afford to buy, and circulating libraries were not so 
organised that they could borrow until Mudie opened 
his Bloomsbury house in 1842, and for a subscription 
of a guinea a year sent out his box of novels to thousands 
of country houses. But in the mid 'forties the in- 
vention of various processes (especially of ink-blocking 
on cloth) made cheap books a profitable speculation (#), 
and publishers immediately began to exploit the poorer 
public by first a six-shilling one-volume novel, and then 
in the 'fifties and 'sixties by the cheaper Railway Lib- 
rary and ' Yellow Back ' novels. But this is to anticipate. 

The turn of those who early in the century were thus 
deprived of the novels of fashion 83 came with Dickens 
and periodical publication a form in which Pierce 
Egan's Tom and Jerry swept the town in 1821, causing 
Pickwick to be written. The instalments in sum only 
reduced the price of the entire novel by a third, but it 
meant an immediate outlay of only a shilling or even 
sixpence instead of an impossible guinea and a half; 
Pickwick sold 40,000 copies a number, and for twenty- 
five years novelists published in paper-covered parts. 
In January 1845 ^ e Literary Gazette observed in 
reviewing No. i of Chapman and Hall's Monthly 

(a) Vide Michael Sadleir, The Evolution of Publishers' Binding Styles 
1770-1900, p. 612 and footnote. 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 153 

Series of Original Fiction : ' The plan of serial 
publishing has now taken almost every shape : weekly, 
fortnightly, monthly, biennial, quarterly, half-yearly, 
annually, irregularly.' The shilling number presently 
had a rival in the shilling magazine, which ran several 
novels as serials Blackwood's, Prater's, the Cornhill, 
Macmillan'S) Dickens* All the Tear Round giving 
better value and soon driving the monthly numbers 
out of the field. 84 All these were as popular as the 
substantial story magazines of the Strand class are 
to-day (it was worth the Cornhiirs while to offer the 
comparatively unknown Trollope 1000 for a suitable 
serial, which as Framley Parsonage established him as a 
novelist) ; the Cornhill with 90,000 subscribers, and 
Macmillan's Magazine with nearly as many (in a read- 
ing public half the size of to-day's), suggest the extent 
of the middle-class public, Dickens' 70,000 sub- 
scribers to Master Humphrey's Clock of a lower class 
one has only to remember the tone of the references 
to Dickens in Cranford and The Heir of Redclyjfe to 
realise that his serial numbers were considered the 
fiction of the uncultivated and inherently ' low.' 

The effect on the novel of serial publication the 
publisher's attempt to reach a new public in the 
absence of facilities for cheap editions was of course 
the well-known one of forcing authors to construct in 
instalments each of which closed with a curtain. But 
this means a good deal more, the discovery for instance 
of all that is implied in the term ' sensation novel ' 
which was scornfully coined by the critics about this 
time. The sensational novel seems to be and is 
explained by literary historians as being a direct 
descendant of the Mrs, Radcliffe-Byron school, but 



154 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

there is an essential difference between the novel of 
Mrs. Radcliffe and the novel of Dickens. Mrs. 
Radcliffe makes an appeal less to the nerves than to 
the imagination, using as we have seen the desiccated 
idiom of the age, like Scott, and she does achieve a 
total effect. The sensation novelists make a brute 
assault on the feelings and nerves in quite another way. 
Richardson and Sterne, we have said, were the ori- 
ginators of the subsequent popular fiction. 85 In them 
one sees a highly specialised interest in the workings of 
what was called the heart. It is like the interest of a 
previous age in heroic drama, a stylisation of life 
having been set up in which ' sensibility,' like the 
point of honour, became a convention with a set of 
laws of its own, which it required a training to 
appreciate. No one made the mistake of confusing the 
subject-matter of this kind of art with ' life ' ; the 
emotions aroused by it (we know they were aroused 
from Richardson's correspondence and Sterne's 
imitators) might be called intellectual since they 
required an intellectual stimulus. The reader wept 
because she knew she ought to weep, like the young 
ladies who were punctually moved to tears by the name 
Missolonghi. We can discover the nature of the 
interest by examining Clarissa to see where the stress 
falls : it is not on the seduction, rape, and similar 
events, where the modern reader would naturally 
expect it, but on the long-drawn-out dying of the heroine 
who, like the Man of Feeling, is a martyr to an ex- 
quisite code of mosurs. As in the case of heroic drama 
the convention lost interest, and once the code that 
supports such a convention has been scrapped the 
work is found to be boring and ridiculous. There 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 155 

exists a remarkable letter from Lady Louisa Stuart to 
Scott which illustrates this point admirably : 

One evening a book was wanted to be read aloud, and 
what you said of Mackenzie made the company chuse The 
Man of Feeling, though some apprehended it would prove 
too affecting. However we began : I, who was the reader, 
had not seen it for several years, the rest did not know it at 
all. I am afraid I perceived a sad change in it, or myself 
which was worse; and the effect altogether failed. Nobody 
cried, and at some of the passages, the touches I used to 
think so exquisite Oh Dear ! They laughed. . . . Yet I 
remember so well its first publication, my mother and sisters 
crying over it, dwelling upon it with rapture ! And when I 
read it, as I was a girl of fourteen not yet versed in sentiment, 
I had a secret dread I should not cry enough to gain the credit 
of proper sensibility. This circumstance has led me to 
reflect on the alterations of taste produced by time. What we 
call the taste of the Age, in books as in anything else, naturally 
influences more or less those who belong to that Age, who 
converse with the world and are swayed by each other's 
opinions. But how comes it to affect those who are as yet 
of no Age, the very young, who go to an author fresh and, 
if one may say so, stand in the shoes of his first original 
readers? What instinct makes them judge so differently? 
In my youth Rousseau's Nouvelle Heloise was the book that 
all mothers prohibited and all daughters longed to read: 
therefore, somehow or other they did read, and were not the 
better for it if they had a grain of romance in their composi- 
tion. Well ! I know a young person of very strong feelings 
one * of imagination all compact/ all eagerness and en- 
thusiasm. She lately told me she had been trying to read 
the Nouvelle Heloise , but it tired and disgusted her, so she 
threw it by unfinished. I was heartily glad to hear it} but, 
I own, a good deal surprised, for if she, the same she, had 
lived fifty years ago, she would have been intoxicated and 
bewildered and cried her eyes out (a). 

(a) Lady Louisa Stuart to Scott, September 4, 1826, collected by Wilfred 
Partington in The Private Letter-Books of Sir Walter Scott t p. 272. 



156 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

Clarissa is only saved because it just touches tragedy 
as heroic drama is apt to do and because, like Pamela 
and parts of Grandison, it has some of the eighteenth- 
century virtues. But like Henry Mackenzie's novels, 
it will never squeeze a tear from posterity. The 
difference between the popular novels of the eighteenth 
century and of the nineteenth is that the new fiction 
instead of requiring its readers to co-operate in a 
sophisticated entertainment discovers ' the great heart 
of the public/ Whereas Sterne's successors at any 
rate represent a cultivation of the emotions founded on 
a gentle code, Dickens stands primarily for a set of 
crude emotional exercises. He discovered, for instance, 
the formula * laughter and tears ' that has been the 
foundation of practically every popular success ever 
since (Hollywood's as well as the bestseller's). Far 
from requiring an intellectual stimulus, these are the 
tears that rise in the heart and gather to the eyes in- 
voluntarily or even in spite of the reader, though an 
alert critical mind may cut them off at the source in a 
revulsion to disgust. 

This is the root of the difference between the best- 
seller before Nicholas Nickleby and after, between * The 
Secrets of Sensibility in four volumes ' (a) and Trilby, 
Comin' Thro' the Rye y The Constant Nymph. The new 
kind of fiction flourished because it was written for 
a new, a naive public, not that of the old circulating 
libraries or that could afford to buy Scott but for the 
shopkeeper and the working man. It is Defoe's 
public, and the completeness of its reorientation is of 

(4) *. . . the leddy I saw the day comin' intfl a circulation leebrary to ax 
for the Secrets o* Sensibility, in four volumes.* Noctes Ambrosiana 
(January 1827). 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 157 

some importance. It is being catered for by a new 
kind of novelist. The peculiarity of Dickens, as any 
3ne who runs a critical eye over a novel or two of his 
:an see, is that his originality is confined to recapturing 
a. child's outlook on the grown-up world, emotionally 
he is not only uneducated but also immature. When 
he is supplying the sine qua non of the popular novel 
the young lovers who have traditionally to be of good 
birth and breeding and their background of upper 
middle-class life he does not merely fall back on 
conventional situation and character, like Scott, he 
produces them at the level of Sir Leicester Dedlock 
and Dr. Strong the painful guesses of the uninformed 
and half-educated writing for the uninformed and half- 
educated. The eighteenth-century novelist's was a 
mature, discreet, well-balanced personality. Dickens 
is one with his readers ; they enjoyed exercising their 
emotional responses, he laughed and cried aloud as he 
wrote. We miss equally in Reade and the Kingsleys 
the adult and critical sensibility of the older novelists, 
who wrote for the best, because it was the only, public. 
The novelist who made his living by cheap serial 
publication had necessarily to abandon cumulative 
effect for a piecemeal succession of immediate effects. 
This was^ not only generally practised by the popular 
novelists of the 'forties, but explicitly recognised by 
them. Any possibility of a total effect to which every 
part contributes is negatived by this formula, and since 
experience seems to show that to accustom oneself to 
read on a kind of penny-in-the-slot-machine principle 
is to lose the ability to read in any other way, another 
phase in the history of the reading public began in 
which the newly acquired habits, as they gained 



158 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

ground, were to break down the old and presently 
change the face of the world of letters. 

For the time being this only affected the Dickens- 
Reade-Collins public, since the sensation novel with 
its violent incident, stagey dialogue and melodramatic 
use of coincidence and the wildly improbable was 
despised by the Trollope - Thackeray - George Eliot 
public. So we now have two levels of reading public, 
though with no such sharp division between them as 
was noticed between the various strata in Part I. the 
numbers of Master Humphrey's Clock and Household 
Words crept into such upper middle-class homes as the 
Edmonstones' in The Heir of Redclyjfe, to be read 
apologetically by the younger generation ; All the Tear 
Round contained not only serials by Dickens, Collins, 
and Reade, but a novel of Mrs. Gaskell's as well, and 
whereas Thackeray, for instance, with his ' Adsum * and 
Amelia only too frequently evokes the same responses 
as Dickens in his set pieces, Dickens himself has a 
personal outlook and idiom which, though elsewhere 
only present in patches, succeed in getting the upper 
hand in David Copperfield and Great Expectations 
sufficiently for these novels to be called literature. We 
have no occasion, therefore, to talk of a * lowbrow ' and 
a ' middlebrow ' public here. All that can be said is 
that because of new commercial conditions the be- 
ginnings of a split between popular and cultivated 
taste in fiction is apparent. As yet the people were 
not by any means restricted from reading and enjoy- 
ing the ' better ' fiction, since it too was running as 
serials in the shilling magazines and even in Dickens's 
twopenny weeklies, and though addressing itself to 
a gentler and more serious audience it nevertheless 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 159 

employs the same alphabet ; in the twentieth century, 
as we saw, the language and methods of the serious 
novelists are hieroglyphic to the reader of Edgar 
Wallace or even of Hugh Walpole. 

But the production of cheap editions mentioned 
earlier drove a wedge between the educated and the 
general public. In 1848 the astute W. H. Smith 
secured the right of selling books and newspapers at 
railway stations, and a new style of popylar literature 
was needed for his stalls ; ten years later he issued 
Charles Lever's works as one-volume novels in the 
famous yellow covers, other publishers followed the 
* Yellow Backs ' with cheap shilling novels, either 
reprints or specially written for the purpose, which had 
enormous sales ; Routledge's Railway Library was so 
successful that in 1 853 Lytton got 20,000 from them 
for the right to issue cheap editions of his already 
published works for ten years, and at the end of that 
period they found it profitable to renew the contract (a). 
The flood, of course, swept the Harrison Ains worths and 
Lyttons rather than the Trollopes and George Eliots 
into popular esteem, 86 for the new public had formed 
its taste on Dickens's numbers. And that public now 
acquired the regular reading habits of the class which 
subscribed to the circulating libraries. By 1863 the 
threat to literature had forced itself on the Quarterly's 
notice, and the Quarterly did its duty. Two dozen 
of the popular novels were collected for an article on 
4 The Sensation Novel,' in which the writer observes : 

A class of literature has grown up around us, usurping 
in many respects, intentionally or unintentionally, a portion 

(a) Quoted from F. Mum by, Publishing and Bookselling, p. 325. 



160 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

of the preacher's office, playing no inconsiderable part in 
moulding the minds and forming the habits and tastes of its 
generation; and doing so principally, we had almost said 
exclusively, by * preaching to the nerves.' . . . Excitement, 
and excitement alone, seems to be the great end at which 
they aim. ... A commercial atmosphere floats around 
works of this class, redolent of the manufactory and the shop. 
The public want novels, and novels must be made so many 
yards of printed stuff, sensation-pattern, to be ready by the 
beginning of the season. . . . 

Various causes have been at work to produce this phe- 
nomenon of our literature. Three principal ones may be 
named as having had a large share in it periodicals, circu- 
lating libraries, and railway bookstalls. . . . This institu- 
tion [the circulating library] is the oldest offender of the three. 
... It is more active now than at any former period of its 
existence. . . . The manner of its action is indeed insepar- 
able from the nature of the institution, varying only in the 
production of larger quantities to meet the demand of a more 
reading generation. From the days of the * Minerva Press ' 
(that synonym for the dullest specimens of the light reading 
of our grandmothers) to those of the thousand and one tales 
of the current season, the circulating library has been the 
chief hot-bed for forcing a crop of writers without talent and 
readers without discrimination. . . . The railway stall, 
like the circulating library, consists partly of books written 
expressly for its use, partly of reprints in a new phase of their 
existence . . . generally of the sensation kind. . . . The 
exigencies of railway travelling do not allow much time for 
examining the merits of a book before purchasing it; and 
keepers of bookstalls, as well as of refreshment-rooms, find 
an advantage in offering their customers something hot and 
strong, something that may catch the eye of the hurried 
passenger, and promise temporary excitement to relieve the 
dulness of a journey. 

Cheap novels not only brought to popular notice a kind 
of fiction which would otherwise not have been 
accessible, but ultimately drove out the expensive 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 161 

three-decker. The class that could afford to buy 
novels at a guinea and a half each had been the main 
support of literature, and it was not a small class : it 
could absorb on publication 10,000 copies of a guinea 
poem by Byron or Scott, and 1 6,000 copies of Adam 
Bede. Moreover, the three-volume novel carried with 
it a certain profit since the circulating library took at 
least a fixed number and the cost of production was 
very much lower than it is to-day (not to speak of the 
difference in price between 7s. 6d. and 3 is, 6d). 87 But 
the three-decker, when publishers had taken to re- 
issuing their novels in a five-shilling one-volume form 
as soon as the first demand was over, was seen to be 
uneconomic ; the powerful circulating libraries led by 
Mudie and Smith issued a circular to the publishers on 
June 27th, 1894, declaring that after six months had 
elapsed they would pay only four shillings a volume for 
novels in sets, and by 1897 there were only one- 
volume novels on the market. This made all the 
difference to the novelist with no popular appeal. 
Whereas in George Eliot's time literature had paid, 88 
that is to say, a serious novelist could make a handsome 
living without surrendering anything, by Conrad's it 
had ceased to do so. Novelists of the stamp of Gissing 
and Henry James cannot find publishers easily to-day, 89 
and they cannot in any case hope to make a living from 
their novels. 

The sudden opening of the fiction market to the 
general public was a blow to serious reading. It has 
previously been suggested that the reading of the 
general public had been from necessity or choice 
largely serious. Constable's scheme in 1826 for a 
popular series which should stand in every humble 



162 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

inglenook did not include fiction, and when carried 
out consisted chiefly of history, travel, and works of 
scientific interest; when two years later Murray's 
Family Library was launched as a rival it also was 
confined to ' useful knowledge and elegant literature,' 
and sold some 30,000 copies of the forty-seven 
volumes, and Knight's Library of Entertaining Know- 
ledge, also started in 1829, was a similar venture in 
history, biography, voyages and travels, science and 
natural history. When Railway Libraries and c Yellow 
Backs ' offered a kind of reading that needed little 
exertion, it was not likely that any other would stand 
a chance except with the few determined on self- 
improvement. The change had indeed begun before 
cheap novels, with the serial numbers and magazines. 
Knight's Weekly Volume series of useful literature for 
the poor, published between 1844 and 1846, was a 
comparative failure, and he wrote of this later : 

Although very generally welcomed by many who were 
anxious for the enlightenment of the humbler classes, the 
humbler classes themselves did not find in them the mental 
aliment for which they hungered. They wanted fiction, 
and the half-dozen historical novels of the series were not 
of the exciting kind which in a few years became the staple 
product of the cheap press. ... At the time of the issue 
of the Weekly Volume, the sale of books at railway stations 
was unknown. Seven years afterwards it had become uni- 
versal. Then, in the vicinity of great towns where there 
was a railway station, the shelves of the newspaper vendor 
were filled with shilling volumes known as the * Parlour 
Library,' the ' Popular Library/ the * Railway Library/ 
the * Shilling Series ' (a). 

The fiction habit, therefore, had been acquired by the 

(a) Charles Knight, Passages of a Working Life during half a century, 
vol. in. 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 163 

general public long before the Education Act of 1870, 
the only effect of which on the book market was to 
swell the ranks of the half-educated half a generation 
later (until then educated taste had managed to hold 
its own). 90 How strongly the habit had taken root the 
content of the Fortnightly Review shows. Founded in 
1865 as 'the organ of liberalism, free-thinking and 
open enquiry ... of all the serial publications of the 
day probably the most serious, the most earnest, the 
least devoted to amusement, the least flippant, the 
least jocose,' as Trollope wrote, the Board of Directors 
nevertheless decided at the outset that it must always 
contain q. novel. 

In effect, cheap novels meant a temptation for the 
novelist to specialise that Scott, for example, had never 
been subjected to. It could never occur to a novelist 
of Scott's day that there could be any other public to 
address than his peers, and Scott exhibits accord- 
ingly the dignity of a well-bred man who is sure of 
himself and his audience, he has none of Thackeray's 
uneasiness. For all his yawns and indolence and Stiff- 
ness Scott has a splendid self-assurance which Lytton 
in the next generation woefully lacks, but then Lytton 
had discovered how to exploit the market, as a mere 
list of his novels proves (a). And this lowering of the 
level of appeal makes Lytton the first of modern best- 
sellers, with Marie Corelli and Gilbert Frankau as his 
direct descendants. Compare his diction with Scott's ; 

(a) 1828, Pelham (novel of fashion) j 1829, De<vereux (historical romance) j 
1830, Paul Clifford (novel with a thesis) \ 1832, Eugene Aram (idealisation of 
crime) ; 1833, Godolphin (philosophical, fashionable) } 1834, Last Days of 
Pompeii (historical), and also Rienzi ^(1835) ; 1837, Ernest Maltra<vers 
(realism and philosophy), and also Alt/e in the next year . . . j 1842, Zanoni 
(supernatural), etc. Lytton's career has a remarkable parallel in that of Hugh 
Walpole, who is a bestseller at about the same level. 



164 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

it is the difference between the latter's verse and the 
poetry of any second-rate Romantic. Lytton *s in- 
flated language means an inflation of sentiment, and 
his pseudo-philosophic nonsense and preposterous 
rhetoric carry with them inevitably a debasing of the 
novelist's currency. But they were taken seriously by 
the general public. Scott, who though he had no 
artistic conscience had had the benefit of an eighteenth- 
century education, observed of Lytton's novels : * There 
is, I am sorry to say, a slang tone of morality which is 
immoral/ To make a useful generalisation, best- 
sellers before Lytton are at worst dull, but ever since 
they have almost always been vulgar. A similar dis- 
tinction is to be made between periodicals before and 
after Northcliffe entered Fleet Street. 

The direction Lytton gave to popular fiction caused 
it to set its face away from literature ; in fact, as the 
century grows older the bestseller becomes less a case 
for the literary critic than for the psychologist 91 in 
place of Aphra Behn we have Ouida* with the volup- 
tuous day-dream instead of the dispassionate narration 
of a complicated plot. It was Lytton who taught the 
novelist to use what is now called uplift, best defined in 
terms of its use as strictly a device for rendering 
acceptable to the reader a fable which his instincts urge 
him to enjoy but his acquired social conscience would 
otherwise oblige him to take exception to (Lytton 
used it, for instance, in Eugene Aram to divert attention 
from his idealisation of a criminal). This is the * slang 
tone of morality ' Scott found distasteful. Defoe, of 
course, had hit on a similar but less dangerous trick 
(yide pp. 1 02 Jyy.)- More generally uplift can be 
described as a device for giving in itself emotional 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 165 

satisfaction, e.g. in the novels of the late Gene Stratton 
Porter, and in excelsis in Hollywood films, so that 
forms of entertainment in which uplift now figures are 
largely masturbatory. The history of uplift in nine- 
teenth and twentieth-century fiction is worth looking 
into. A distinction was made in Part I. Chapter III. 
between the Victorian and the Georgian bestseller, and 
it can now be substantiated. Victorian uplift is 
associated with a liking for the word ' noble ' (as in the 
verse of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Tennyson, and 
Alice Meynell, the essays of Ruskin and the novels of 
Charles Kingsley) ; it is not merely sentimental since it 
was bound up with a genuine desire to lead a useful 
life, serve humanity, etc., as well as to visualise oneself 
in a noble attitude. It led to keeping commonplace 
books and doing good works, 92 and incidentally to the 
novels of Mrs. Humphry Ward and Marie Corelli, 
both of whom and for this reason attracted the admir- 
ing attention of Gladstone. 

Their success shows too how far the reading public's 
capacity had shrunk since Lackington. It was 
suggested earlier that the fiction habit had discouraged 
serious reading, and through the Victorian era there is 
evident in consequence a gradual inclusion in the 
novelist's function of what had formerly been left to 
writers on history, philosophy, science, religion, ethics, 
politics . . . everything, in fact, which demands con- 
centration and does not offer the bait of a story. A 
class of popular novelists noticed in Part I. 
Chapter III. as serving to convey cultural news to the 
lower levels came into existence at this time, and in 
consequence of this closure of the man in the street's 
communications with the ideas of his age. The con- 



i66 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

dition of success for such a novelist is that he should 
be at the same level of development as his public ; 
then alone can he maintain that burning enthusiasm in 
treating what for the more educated is a matter of 
commonplace or vieux jeu or merely childish non- 
sense. 93 Marie Corelli described the reception met by 
her first novel The Romance of Two Worlds (1886) thus : 

[It was] the simply worded narration of a singular psychical 
experience, and included certain theories on religion which I, 
personally speaking, accept and believe. . . . Ignored by 
the Press, it attracted the public. Letters concerning it and 
its theories began to pour in from strangers in all parts of 
the United Kingdom. ... I attribute my good fortune 
to the simple fact that I have always tried to write straight 
from my own heart to the hearts of others (a). 

Nothing can better illustrate the immense drop from 
the highly critical and intelligent society led by 
Charles Fox to later Victorian taste than the nature of 
Marie Corelli's success. She was not merely the idol 
of the man in the street ; Tennyson, Theodore Watts- 
Dunton, Queen Victoria, and the Prince of Wales were 
equally enraptured, Ardath ' brought both Gladstone 
and the British ambassador at Madrid to her feet ' (b\ 
the Dean of Gloucester wrote expressing his admira- 
tion, Dean Wilberforce and Dean Farrar testified that 
her novels made for sweetness and light, the Dean of 
Westminster read from Barabbas from the Abbey 
pulpit on Easter Sunday, Lord Haldane wrote to tell 
her that her style was brilliant and her range of 
imagination very great, Lord Charles Beresford 
seriously envied her her gift of ' incisive English,' 
Mr* Asquith begged for an autographed copy of one 

(a) My First Book (1894), edited by Jerome K. Jerome. 

(b) Memoirs of Marie Corclli, Bertha Vyvcr. 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 167 

of her books, Father Ignatius (described as * a prophet 
in his generation ') preached on The Sorrows of Satan 
and the hall was packed, streams of private carriages 
discharging far more of Marie's readers than could be 
accommodated so that a similar sermon had to be 
delivered on the following Sunday, she was invited to 
lecture to the Edinburgh Philosophical Society and the 
lecture was enthusiastically received, she was invited to 
be the first lady to read a paper to the Royal Society of 
Literature, Ella Wheeler Wilcox literally did homage 
on her knees to the inspired novelist, and the Master of 
Magdalene and the Rector of St. Andrews University 
were among her firmest admirers. Marie's own con- 
ception of her work is elaborately set forth in The 
Sorrows of Satan (a\ where the novelist heroine Mavis 
Clare is obviously less a day-dream than what she 
thought herself to be in fact. This ' woman of genius 
with a thinker's brain and an angel's soul ' though 
sneered at by the critics, who are all in league against 
her (jealous of her * mental superiority,' her success, 
and her moral purity), has a vast popular follow- 
ing ; she attacks * modern science ' (identified with 
* atheism ' and ' animalism '), the abuses of high life 
and contemporary literature, is noted for * the intel- 
lectual grasp and power ' of her novels and all the 
while preserves * a child's heart and a child's faith,' 
It is safe to say that no novelist before so visualised 
himself. But once Hall Caine and Marie Corelli had 

(a) First published November 1895 ; xoth ed., 1895 ; 3 2nd ed , 1896 j 
36th ed., 1897 ; 39th ed., 1898 j 42nd ed., 1900 j 501)1 ed., 1905 j 56th ed., 
1910 j 59th ed., 1914 j 63rd ed., 1918. The continued popularity of her 
novels is somewhat surprising. The Master Christian, for example, first 
published in 1900, reached a i^th edition in 1921 j and the 2Oth, a popular 
edition, came out in 1924. 



168 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

for reasons best explained by a psycho-analyst dis- 
covered the novel as a means of satisfying their 
suppressed desires and so, since they were themselves 
emotionally uneducated, the starved desires of the vast 
bulk of the public, it was easy for other writers, eager 
to make money and not restrained by such a degree of 
fineness as to make the means distasteful, to imitate 
their accents. 

Meanwhile intercourse with the French school 
of novelists had a remarkable influence on English 
writers whose attention had been attracted by the ex- 
periments of Flaubert, Zola, Maupassant, Turgeniev, 
Balzac, even of Victor Hugo, and for the first time 
in history we have a whole body of English novelists 
determined to write novels which should be works of 
art Notes on Novelists and the painful cogitations and 
revisions of George Moore, Henry James, and Conrad 
are the fruits of this intercourse ; even Hardy for all his 
simplicity was affected by two at least of the French 
artists. Trollope in his Autobiography observes with 
dignity in the course of censuring Wilkie Collins for 
his ungentlemanly attention to detail (as a writer of 
detective fiction Collins had of course to plan his novels), 
' When I sit down to write a novel I do not at all know, 
and I do not very much care, how it is to end.' This 
light-hearted attitude is in fine contrast to the im- 
plications of Notes on Novelists, and though the former 
had not assisted to produce great novels it had meant 
that no barrier was placed between the best novelists 
of the age and the ordinary reader. It has previously 
been pointed out that any one who could read Dickens 
(the Edgar Wallace of his time) could also, subject to 
a little self-discipline, read and understand George 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 169 

Eliot, Charlotte Bronte, Thackeray, Trollope, the 
novelists of the educated. So it had always been. But 
the conscious cultivation of the novel as an art meant 
an initiated audience. The economic causes noted in 
this section as tending to separate the homogeneous 
reading public of the eighteenth century into the 
severely stratified public of Part I. were reinforced by 
the appearance of the highbrow novelist, who, unlike 
the merely serious novelists of the past, aiming like 
George Eliot, for instance, at moral ends easily com- 
prehended by the half-educated, set out to develop 
the possibilities of his medium for ends outside the 
understanding of the ordinary reader, and which far 
from being * moral ' only too often appeared to him the 
very opposite. Dickens and George Eliot were near 
neighbours, but there is an unbridged and impassable 
gulf between Marie Corelli and Henry James. And 
so the great novelists of the age pass out of the common 
reader's field of vision. There is a well-substantiated 
story (a) of how when Scott was to visit a great London 
house the servants petitioned to be allowed to stand in 
the hall and watch him pass ; we cannot flatter our- 
selves of the possibility of that having happened even 
with Conrad or Hardy, who for different reasons seem 
likely to be the last novelists of repute -known to the 
general public even by name. 

a 
Repercussions on the Periodical 

In 1829 an article appeared in the June number of 
the Edinburgh Review whose acuteness is scarcely 

(a) Rogers told it to Macaulay(i;i^f Trevelyan's Life ofMacaulay, p. 157). 



170 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

disguised by the stately periods in which it was framed. 
Under the heading * Signs of the Times ' the writer 
declares : 

Were we required to characterise this age of ours by any 
single epithet, we should be tempted to call it, not an Heroical, 
Devotional, Philosophical or Moral Age, but, above all 
others, the Mechanical Age. . . . What wonderful acces- 
sions have thus been made, and are still making, to the 
physical power of mankind ; how much better fed, clothed, 
lodged, and, in all outward respects, accommodated, men 
now are, or might be, by a given quantity of labour, is a 
grateful reflection which forces itself on every one. . . . 
But leaving these matters for the present, let us observe how 
the mechanical genius of our time has diffused itself into 
quite other provinces. Not the external and physical alone 
is now managed by machinery, but the internal and spiritual 
also. Here, too, nothing follows its spontaneous course, 
nothing is left to be accomplished by old, natural methods. 
Has any man, or any society of men, a truth to speak, a piece 
of spiritual work to do, they can nowise proceed at once, and 
with the mere natural organs, but must first call a public 
meeting, appoint committees, issue prospectuses, eat a public 
dinner; in a word, construct or borrow machinery, where- 
with to speak or do it. Without machinery they are hope- 
less, helpless a colony of Hindoo weavers squatting in the 
heart of Lancashire. . . . 

These things, which we state lightly enough here, are yet 
of deep import, and indicate a mighty change in our whole 
manner of existence. . . . To us who live in the midst of 
all this, and see continually the faith, hope, and practice of 
every one founded on Mechanism of one kind or other, it is 
apt to seem quite natural, and as if it could never have been 
otherwise. ... At no former era has Literature, the 
printed communication of thought, been of such importance 
as it is now. The true Church of England, at this moment, 
lies in the Editors of its Newspapers. 

So remarkably modern an utterance would pass 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 171 

apart from the style for a complaint from the next 
century, were it not for the closing sentences. No one 
in the twentieth century so aware as this writer would 
look to literature and the Press for salvation ; and it is 
the Press that has contributed most to put literature out 
of the question. A short history of the periodical in the 
last hundred years is essential to that explanation of the 
situation described in Part I. which it is the object of 
this study to attempt. 

The first daily paper in the language addresses 
itself, like the Tatler^ to a discriminating public, or 
rather, is not aware of any other public. The first 
number of the Dally Courant (March nth, 1702) 
assures the reader that in reporting foreign news the 
Author will not * take upon him to give any Comments 
or Conjectures of his own, but will relate only Matter 
of Fact ; supposing other People to have Sense enough 
to make Reflections for themselves/ And for a 
century and a half there is no radical change to report 
in the tone of the Press : the journalist of every re- 
putable periodical continued to use the same methods 
the methods of Defoe, Addison, Swift, Johnson, 
Jeffrey ... to influence the reader by appealing to 
his good sense, good taste, and social morality. Even 
when popular agitation had produced, in defiance of 
the stamp-tax, an illegal cheap Press at the end of the 
eighteenth century, Cobbett is its typical journalist. 
Journalists not only wrote well, they were not un- 
commonly men of letters. 

The typical periodical of the first half of the nine- 
teenth century was the Edinburgh Review, as that of the 
eighteenth century was the Spectator. They occupied 
an important place in the social consciousness of the 



172 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

English nation : they had a more important office than 
the provision of news or literary gossip. The Spectator ^ 
for example, in a small, highly centralised community, 
where every one of account knew every one else and 
where the London coffee-houses served as foci for the 
exchange of ideas, held the community together by 
stabilising the ideal standard of taste, and served, as we 
have seen, to bring together the various classes whose 
interests and outlooks might well have been incom- 
patible. Even after the lapse of over a century, when 
a number of quarterlies and monthlies existed, never- 
theless each, with pretty nearly the same sense of 
responsibility and authority, could be relied on to 
preserve the standard of opinion. From the beginning 
of an organised reading public till the late nineteenth 
century tradition and authority were guarded by a 
consciously civilised Press. 

There is obviously something to be said for this kind 
of centrality (compare Part I. Chapter II.). It is not 
merely that men of genius could maintain themselves 
by journalism without degradation. It meant that the 
reading public was homogeneous, and in consequence 
a genuinely original author could in general count on 
instant recognition, a good thing not merely for himself 
but for the state of literature. There is now neces- 
sarily no equivalent of the Edinburgh Review in its 
prime. Twenty-three years after its foundation, ' to 
have the entry of its columns was to command the most 
direct channel for the spread of opinions, and the 
shortest road to influence and celebrity ... his 
article on Milton appeared in the August number 
(1825). The effect on the authors reputation was 
instantaneous. Like Lord Byron, he awoke one morn- 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 173 

ing and found himself famous. . . . Murray declared 
that it would be worth the copyright of Childe Harold 
to have Macaulay on the staff of the Quarterly. The 
family breakfast table in Bloomsbury was covered with 
cards of invitation to dinner from every quarter of 
London ' (a). 

When * The Taxes on Knowledge ' were reduced, 
but before they were finally abolished, it is interesting 
to see how the working class was catered for. Take 
1850 as the date before the new conditions in fiction 
discussed in I had time to affect the periodical, and 
let us examine a few examples of successful popular 
periodicals. In 1832 Charles Knight produced the 
Penny Magazine for Brougham's Society for the Dis- 
tribution of Useful Knowledge, and it found 200,000 
regular purchasers straightway. Its nature is described 
by Knight himself in the preface to the first volume : 

If this incontestable evidence of the spread of the ability 
to read be most satisfactory, it is still more satisfactory to 
consider the species of reading which has had such an ex- 
tensive and increasing popularity. In this work there has 
never been a single sentence that could inflame a vicious 
appetite; and not a paragraph that could minister to preju- 
dices and superstitions which a few years since were common. 
There have been no excitements for the lover of the mar- 
vellous no tattles or abuse for the gratification of a diseased 
personality and, above all, no party politics. The subjects 
which have uniformly been treated have been of the broadest 
and simplest character. Striking points of Natural History 
Accounts of the great Works of Art in Sculpture and 
Painting Descriptions of such Antiquities as possess his- 
torical interest Personal Narratives of Travellers Bio- 
graphies of Men who have had a permanent influence on 
the condition of the world Elementary Principles of Lan- 

(a) Trevclyan, Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, p. 85. 



174 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

guage and Numbers established facts in Statistics and 
Political Economy these have supplied the materials for 
exciting the curiosity of a million readers. This considera- 
tion furnishes the most convincing answer to the few (if any 
there now remain) who assert that General Education is an 
evil. The people will not abuse the power they have acquired 
to read, and therefore to think. Let them be addressed in 
the spirit of sincerity and respect, and they will prove that 
they are fully entitled to the praise which Milton bestowed 
upon their forefathers. . . . 

There was poetry in the Penny Magazine Chaucer, 
Surrey, and Wyatt, seventeenth century, eighteenth 
century, and Romantic poetry but no fiction. Other 
papers of the same kind, nearly or quite as popular, 
such as Chamber?* Journal and the Saturday Magazine, 
in general contained a story in each number. This then 
is the equivalent of the * Sunday paper ' of Part I. (a). 

The monthly magazine for the home (class g on 
p. 1 1) had its forerunner too. Taking a random dip, 
there is in 1848 ' The Family Economist: A Penny 
Monthly Magazine Devoted to the Moral, Physical, 
and Domestic Improvement of the Industrious Classes/ 
with a picture of a contented industrious family on the 
cover surrounded by such mottoes as * Education is 
Second Nature, * Labour Rids Us of Three Great 
Evils, Irksomeness, Vice and Poverty/ It contains 
useful advice, stories after the model of Hannah More's 
Cheap Miscellany, is unpretentious and rational without 
being in the least patronising, and is above all well 
written. 

(a) * So long as the Penny Magazines make a good selection of articles 
from the best works, they are beneficial. None can long accustom them- 
selves to just and elegant compositions, without being disgusted with that 
which is vulgar and mean.' Autobiography of Sir Egerton Brydge* (1834), 
p. 208. 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 175 

In 1 846 G. W. M. Reynolds, the Northcliffe of his 
age, discovered the existence of a potential periodical 
public which, not yet catered for by the newspaper, was 
not equal to the magazines edited by Dickens and his 
acquaintance ; he supplied them with Reynolds' Mis- 
cellany, carefully designed to meet their taste. The 
circulation was enormous. Reynolds was the author 
of many bestsellers which often ran as serials in his 
Miscellany before being republished in penny weekly 
parts The Mysteries of London^ The Necromancer, 
Wagner the Wehr-Wolf, Pickwick Abroad^ Louise the 
Orphan, and so on, whose sales Thackeray estimated 
must have run into millions. The first number, 
November 7th, 1846, contains an address : 

To Our Readers 

Stimulated by the growing improvement in the public taste, 
and convinced that the readers of Cheap Literature are im- 
bued with a profound spirit of inquiry in respect to Science, 
Art, Manufacture, and the various matters of social or national 
importance, the Projector of this MISCELLANY has deter- 
mined to blend Instruction with Amusement; and to allot a 
fair proportion of each Number to Useful Articles, as well as 
to Talcs and Light Reading. Cheap Literature has become 
respectable, because the immense class that supports it has 
latterly made a wonderful intellectual progress; and those 
Periodicals which hope to gain, and secure the favour of that 
class, must provide a literary aliment suited to the improved 
taste of the present day. 

And the contents bear out this interesting assertion. 
Volume one contains 

(a) Instalments of a serial by the editor * Wagner : 
the Wehr-Wolf.' 



176 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

() ' The Anatomy and Physiology of Ourselves 
Popularly Considered,' in nineteen serial 
chapters. 

(c) * Popular Papers on Science ' mechanics, elec- 

tricity, inventions, astronomy, 

(d) Six ' Letters to the Industrious Classes,' by the 

editor, in the style of Cobbett. 

(e) Reviews and essays and topical articles e.g. 

4 How to Read,' ' The Moral Elevation of the 
People/ 

(/) * The Provincial Press of the United Kingdom/ 
criticised and described in forty-two para- 
graphs. 

c All with Numerous Wood-Engravings/ The 
advertisements are of technical works for artisans 
and such elementary text-books as Sessions in Natural 
Philosophy, The Catechism of Music, The Plain and Easy 
Grammar for the Industrious Classes. 

Now all this seems to show (i) that the readers were 
at least as often men as women ; (2) that a genuine 
interest in rational affairs and an insatiable desire for 
self-improvement were taken for granted in the reader ; 
(3) that the sempstress and servant-girl, the mechanic 
and artisan, for whom G. W. M. Reynolds admittedly 
concocted his penny weekly, wanted only one instal- 
ment of a penny novelette to a magazine otherwise 
devoted to improving reading if they had wanted 
more the Miscellany would not have been so popular 
or Reynolds and his wife would have provided more 
fiction. There is an impressive decorum about the 
Miscellany which the age of the Northcliffe and the 
Beaverbrook Press can hardly understand. Its most 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 177 

striking feature is a complete absence of any emotional 
appeals. Even ' Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf/ with its 
Rosicrucians, Inquisitors, and * Wehr '-wolves, its 
borrowings from Faust and Don Juan and Robinson 
Crusoe, and its setting in the high life of medieval 
Florence, is in the tradition of Mrs. Radcliffe and 
Scott that looks back to the eighteenth century the 
stilted idiom leaves the reader everything to do if he 
wishes to be thrilled it bears no relation to Lytton. 
The references to ' the march of mind/ the proud 
self-label of ' the industrious classes/ the advertise- 
ments of improving works for ' the million/ suggest 
how well the Lackingtons of the new era were manag- 
ing for themselves. There is nothing pathetic or 
ridiculous in the ambitions of the million. 94 The 
constant insistence on open-mindedness in politics 
and non-material standards in living without any 
appeals to religious sentiment or anything cheap in the 
radicalism for which Reynolds stood, is a considerable 
achievement. It is a heritage from the eighteenth- 
century revolutionary idealists and the vogue of 
Godwin and Tom Paine. The prevailing note is 
ultimately seen to be a demand for * the amelioration 
of the condition of the industrious millions ' by general 
education. It is a tragic fact that State education, 
when it came, could only damp this amazing en- 
thusiasm for * enlightenment * or else side-track it at 
best, turn the potential Lackingtons into Lewishams. 
The popular Press about 1 850, then, has the dignity 
of the best papers of the age. The standards of 
journalism were set from above, and the charac- 
teristics of the periodicals tabulated in Part I. their 
glorification of food, drink, clothes, and material 

M 



178 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

comforts, their determined inculcation of a higher 
standard of living, their appeal to prejudice, snobbism, 
and herd instinct, their facetious denigration of serious 
values were unknown. The daily papers catered for 
the governing and professional classes, intelligently 
interested in politics, the money market, the law, and 
current affairs, adopting towards their readers the only 
tone which those readers would have permitted, and if 
other classes found them dull, they must go without, 
there was no choice. The discovery by several men 
towards the end of the nineteenth century that the 
periodical, like the novel, could be made profitable by 
treating it as a business concern changed all this. 
W. T. Stead contributed to that change when his 
thirst for political influence found an outlet in 
journalism, but his methods, though only a faint 
anticipation of those of later editors, 95 and serving 
chiefly, as Northcliffe patronisingly remarked, ' to 
relieve the tedium of the dull newspapers of the 
'eighties,' were coldly received by the better part of the 
public and always found distasteful by them ; and he 
never succeeded, either, in achieving the large circula- 
tions of his successors. The three men who created the 
modern Press went differently to work. Newnes with 
Tit-Bits in 1881 hit on the principle of supplying 
' what the Public wants ' a want, of course, which is 
not felt until supplied, and the still more enterprising 
Northcliffe realised the importance of the discovery 96 ; 
in 1888 he followed with Answers, and two years later 
Pearson's Weekly commenced a successful career : that 
is to say, there was room for three very similar weeklies 
which supplied miscellaneous news items without any 
object other than that of holding for a brief while the 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 179 

attention of the newly literate. All three were average 
men who applied the ordinary business methods to 
what had formerly been a profession, and all three 
were, significantly, as uncultured as the man in the 
street for whom they catered ' " I am the average 
man," Sir George Newnes would say. " I am not 
merely putting myself in his place. That is the real 
reason why I know what he wants " ' (a) ; 'A better 
educated Northcliffe would have been unable to 
produce either an Answers or a Daily Mail so ex- 
quisitely suited to the minds of those who welcomed 
them ' (). They were unable to understand, and so 
contemptuous of the old journalistic tradition in which 
educated men devoted their best powers to maintain 
the standard of responsibility of the daily paper 
Hamilton Fyfe reports Northcliffe as saying * To think 
that they took all this trouble and went through all 
these contortions for something that would be read by 
very few people and in a few hours would be dead as 
Queen Anne ! ' (c). ' They thought the way to sell a 
newspaper was to have first-class criticisms of books 
and pictures and music and plays ' (</). And this brings 
out the essential change, in attitude ; the balance-sheet 
now became the test of a paper's standing (<?), and 
owner, editor, and reporter had a common end to sell 
as many copies as possible, irrespective of the means. 
For the new journalism did not confine itself to 
Tit-Bits : in 1 8 90 Newnes started the first modern 

(a) Hulda Friederichs, The Life ofStr George Newnes. 

(b) Hamilton Fyfe, Northcliffe. 

(c) Ibid., p. 59. (d) Ibid., p. 86. 

(e) * The balance sheet is the only honest test of a paper's soundness/ 
Northcliflfe's right-hand man, Kennedy Jones, Fleet Street and Dawning 
Street, p. 323. 



i8o FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

magazine, the Strand, which was followed in 1893 
the Pall Mall Magazine (now Nash*s\ in 1895 ^ 
Windsor, 1898 by the Royal and others; in 1894 
Northcliffe bought the Evening News, in 1896 he 
started the first ha'penny paper, and in the course of 
the next ten years he and Pearson and Newnes got 
possession of most of the popular Press, inventing 
such important new kinds of periodical as the Daily 
Mirror or reorganising older papers on the model of the 
Daily Mail. 

The competition for circulation meant inevitably an 
appeal to the numerically greatest public, as had hap- 
pened in fiction already, and an appeal, therefore, by 
such means as the novelist practised. It is not so much 
the competitions, publicity stunts, free insurance, and 
so forth, nor the lowering of the tone of political con- 
troversy, that characterise the modern Press : it is the 
use of applied psychology to secure readers. North- 
cliffe in directing the Daily Mail seems almost entirely 
to have concentrated on the appearance of the paper, 
the manner in which features and news were treated, 
and the production of Walking-points' in every number 
' the direction of its policy was in the hands of 
smaller men. Northcliffe left it almost entirely to them. 
In his daily messages he seldom even mentioned their 
treatment of the matters which concerned the welfare 
of nations ; he confined himself almost entirely to the 
technical side of their activities. In truth he did not 
think it much mattered what was said in leading 
articles, nor how the public were misled by the colour- 
ing and suppression of facts ' (a). It has been pointed 
out in this chapter that the characteristic of the old 

(a) Hamilton Fyfe, op cit., p. 294. 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 181 

journalism, whether designed for the governing class 
or the masses, was its assumption of a reader humane, 
rational, free from superstition and prejudice and 
interested in the major activities of his age. The new 
type of journalist that the new journalism created is 
worth studying for instance, in the text-books of 
journalism and journalistic college courses, particularly 
in Michael Joseph's Journalism for Profit, where a final 
chapter contributed by successful journalists on ' How 
I make Journalism Pay ' is of considerable interest. A 
significant extract has already been made (vide p. 26) ; 
others are useful illustrations here : 

I write as simply as possible on the things that both charm 
and amuse me, trying to appeal to the ' kiddy * heart that is 
in every one of us ' grown-ups.' 

. . . More and more the public asks to be amused and 
interested rather than informed. 

The most practical method I know of how to make free- 
lance journalism pay is to deliberately write what is known 
in Fleet Street as ' tosh.' I say this not as a cynic but as a 
philosopher ... for the average adventurer in the lists of 
* literature ' who writes for his living will soon learn to take 
things as they are and to profit by them to the best of his 
ability. By * tosh ' I mean the kind of innocuous twaddle 
which a very large number of perfectly respectable news- 
papers and periodicals require for the immense lower-middle 
class public upon which they depend for their existence. 

The old journalist was controlled by a sense of the 
dignity of his profession ; the modern ' cynical/ 
cheaply sophisticated journalist who gives the public 
what it wants, is, and considers himself, a business 
man, 97 and he has precisely the same code and outlook 
as the next man who is out to sell his goods. 98 

The process by which a tradition is killed is always 



182 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

instructive, and perhaps nowhere can it be more easily 
studied than in the history of the Press, where the whole 
process was effected in one generation." There were 
two main tendencies at work : the one by which inde- 
pendent concerns are perforce bought out by com- 
bines (so that in 1922 Amalgamated Press Limited, 
only one of the Harmsworth companies, controlled 
nearly eighty weeklies and monthlies), the other by 
which, as costs of publication rose and periodicals 
became dependent on advertisers, who naturally placed 
their advertisements in the papers with the largest 
circulations (other things being equal), 100 those period- 
icals that tried to sell under the old colours were obliged 
to adopt the new technique or perish. So even while 
this study was writing, the New Statesman (highbrow 
Labour) and the Nation and Athenaeum (highbrow 
Liberal, and itself the tomb of a first-class literary 
review, the Athenaeum) have been obliged to combine 
resources as New Statesman and Nation, while at a 
lower level the comparatively dignified Liberal Daily 
Chronicle has been swallowed up by the Daily News. 
The non-commercial Daily Herald necessarily suc- 
cumbed : ' It is no longer a Labour propaganda paper 
it is just successful journalism of the Odham variety,' 
the London School of Journalism instructs its pupils. 
The new journalism, then, did succeed in turning 
every working man into a newspaper-reader ; it also 
incidentally induced him to exchange the old personal 
active interests for a new set of communal passive ones, 
assisting to bring about the state of affairs to which 
allusion has been made in Part I. Chapter III. 101 ; and 
it necessarily affected his reading habits. The previous 
section of this chapter suggested that the flood of cheap 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 183 

popular novels had produced a nation of novel-readers, 
and we have to consider in what way, if at all, a nation 
of newspaper-readers differs from that. Consider the 
contemporary newspaper, or better still, let us see how 
its prototype, the Daily Mail of Northcliffe's early 
experiment, differs from the Victorian novel in its 
demands on the reader. One of the most important 
innovations Northcliffe made was to establish a system 
of short leaders three to a column in his new paper. 
The traditional editorial style the rounded and 
majestic period, the elaborate argument, the moderate 
tone had to go ; it was replaced by the bright snappy 
style that picks out the ' human ' features of a topic in 
three simple paragraphs. It was Northcliffe's dis- 
covery of ' tabloid journalism/ 102 which is in fact only 
an application of the principle of Tit-Bits to greater 
issues. The Daily Mai/ y and the Press generally ever 
since, have presented to the reader an irresponsible 
collection of scraps, each designed complete with head- 
lines and captions to catch the eye, like a poster, and 
like a poster too to * put across ' its contents at a 
glance. So that all educated people now have two more 
or less conscious ways of reading one that in theory 
at least they reserve for books, the other, with the eye, 
which they automatically adopt for newspapers and 
magazines (a). The uneducated have only one, for the 
former, which they are of course taught at school, is 
soon abandoned in a world in which all their reading 
is of the latter kind (reinforced by the pictorial papers 
and the cinema). And there are signs that even the 

(a) The effect on the language of the journalistic technique of shock 
appeal is brilliantly discussed in Chap. vm. of William Empson's Seven 
Typs of Ambiguity (1930). 



184 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

educated are, as might be expected, tending to substi- 
tute the easier reading habit for that demanding a con- 
siderable effort. The law of natural selection, by which 
a novelist who does not write the kind of novel that 
can be looked through will be less popular than the 
novelist who does, is leading to a state in which only 
the latter kind of novel can get published. 

The advice, now a commonplace, which schools of 
journalism conscientiously give their pupils 

Avoid the solid block of type. It is the modern fashion to 
split up articles into a series of vivid sub-paragraphs. Solid 
chunks of print weary the reader's eyes, and eventually tire 
the brain (a). 

has not found the publisher of popular novels deaf : 

The pages of a novel must not even look solid. If a 
publisher sees the proofs come back from the printer with 
more than a few inches of unbroken matter in a page he is 
quite capable of taking the law into his own hands and break- 
ing up the paragraphs himself. Only the few authors labelled 
as * literary ' have been permitted a little latitude in this 
respect perhaps because they were found to be incorrigible 
or because their sales were so inconsiderable any way that it 
was not considered worth while to trouble about them (b). 

If one considers successively a few pages of Mrs. 
Radcliffe or Scott, of George Eliot, of Mrs. Humphry 
Ward, and finally of Hugh Walpole or Wells or 
Galsworthy (to restrict the test to the reading of the 
educated), one is impressed both with the sudden 
atrophy of the attention in the reader and his reduced 
reading capacity. He has now to be helped by spacing 
out ideas and reiteration. But apply the same test to 

(a) Quoted from London School of Journalism correspondence with 
pupils. 
(6) . H. Lacon Watson, op, tit. 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 185 

the reading of the uneducated Dickens, Marie 
Corelli, Edgar Wallace and it is even more striking. 
The thinness and surface liveliness of the writing, the 
crude, elementary prose, carefully constructed in 
phrases and simple sentences so as to read with the 
maximum ease, of modern popular novelists at all levels 
approximates as nearly as possible to the style of the 
journalist, and this is not surprising when we recollect 
how close is the connection between popular novel and 
magazine story and between magazine and newspaper. 
In fact, the line' between journalist and novelist can no 
longer be drawn. The typical bestseller is also a 
successful and regular contributor to the magazines 
(e.g. Gilbert Frankau) or has been trained on the staff 
of a big daily paper (e.g. Philip Gibbs). And both 
journalist and bestseller are now closely akin to the 
copywriter. 

3 

Levelling down 

What Northcliffe had done was in fact to mobilise 
the people to outvote the minority, who had hitherto 
set the standard of taste without any serious challenge. 
And Northcliffe did this how far consciously it is 
impossible to say, for his acuteness was the superficial 
variety that can hardly be called intelligence by 
working upon herd instinct (a). A description of the 
methods of the new journalism is unnecessary, they are 
sufficiently well known and any popular daily will 
furnish examples ; the nature of the new technique 
can most easily be demonstrated by a comparison 

(a) ' Successful journalists understand the popular mentality and exploit 
it.* London School of Journalism. 



i86 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

between the forces in journalism before and after the 
advent of Northcliffe : on the one hand there are such 
figures as Addison, Swift, Johnson, ' Junius,' Cobbett, 
Jeffrey, and on the other, with corresponding influence, 
Bottomley (during the war John Bull was selling a 
million copies weekly), James Douglas, the Northcliffe 
and Beaverbrook Press. The Pall Mall Gazette edited 
by Morley, the last of the old order, with W. T. Stead 
as assistant editor, was a microcosm worth examining. 
4 Morley and I approached almost everything from a 
different standpoint,' declared Stead. ' We disagreed, 
as I often said, on everything from the existence of God 
to the make-up of a newspaper ' (a). Moreover, 
consider the tone in which Northcliffe's colleague and 
biographer writes of the change : 

The props of the Old Journalism feel bewildered. Their 
task, they believe, is to enlighten such of the public as can 
profit by enlightenment on political questions, on foreign 
policy. Their duty, they maintain, is to guide opinion con- 
cerning matters which may affect national well-being, cause 
changes of Government, raise the issue of peace or war. 
They have nothing to do with increase of circulation. They 
call f this ' pandering to mob interest in trivialities,' com- 
mercial, undignified. Their standard of importance is set by 
the chiefs of political parties, Foreign Office, and the Treasury; 
by the famous Clubs (Reform, Carlton, Athenseum); by the 
great country houses, the country rectories; by the Uni- 
versities, by Bench and Bar. Now the standard is to be set 
by the mass of the people ; the New Journalism will put in 
the foreground whatever is of interest to them, whatever will 
make them ' hand the paper about ' (b)> 

(a) Quoted from The Making of Modern Joumahsm, p. 25. 

() Hamilton Fyfc, Nortfalijffe, p. 84. Cf. too, ibid.* p. 270 : * He knew 
what the newspaper readers wanted and he gave it to them. He broke down 
the dignified idea that the conductors of newspapers should appeal to the 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 187 

Now the tone of this passage, in which it is im- 
possible to overlook a certain triumphant note, can be 
shown to recur in innumerable connections in post-war 
civilisation. Viewed from the opposite side from that 
of Northcliffe's admirers, the change between this and 
the civilisation of the English people hitherto can be 
summarised in the words of Sir Egerton Brydges 
(whose autobiography provides a remarkable seismo- 
gram of the period up to 1830 which destroyed the 
eighteenth-century tradition) : * Formerly, no doubt, 
the mob had a lower class of books than at present, but 
then they did not set them up for the best ' (a). It is, 
above all, the collapse of authority that marks the reading 
public described in Part I. The history of the over- 
throw of authority must be briefly sketched at this point. 

The Puritan conscience implied a seriousness, an 
habitual occupation of the mind by major questions, 
and this had been the shaping factor in the lives of the 
middle-class and respectable poor from Bunyan's age 
till well on into the nineteenth century, when, as we 
have seen, it was side-tracked into a path which has 
more and more widely diverged from that of the arts. 
But before this had happened the rapid increase in the 
reading public seems to have suggested fears for the 
future to thinking men, though they were doubts only 
entertained for the moment, jotted down and then 
probably forgotten. For instance, a prophetic idea 

intelligent few. He frankly appealed to the unintelligent many. Not in a 
cynical spirit, not with any feeling of contempt for their tastes ; but because 
on the whole he had more sympathy with them than with the others, and 
because they were as the sands of the sea in numbers. He did not aim at 
making opinion less stable, emotion more superficial. He did this, without 
knowing he did it, because it increased circulation.' 

(a) The Autobiography, Times, Opinions and Contemporaries of Sir Egerton 
(1834). 



i88 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

had occurred to Tom Moore, and he had thought it 
worth mentioning to Wordsworth and entering into his 
diary in 1834 'Broached to him my notions (long 
entertained by me) respecting the ruinous effects to 
literature likely to arise from the boasted diffusion of 
education ; the lowering of the standard that must 
necessarily arise from the extending of the circle of 
judges ; from letting the mob in to vote, particularly 
at a period when the market is such an object to 
authors. Those " who live to please must please to 
live," and most will write down to the lowered standard. 
All the great things in literature have been achieved 
when the readers were few ; "fit audience find and 
few." In the best days of English genius, what a 
comparatively small circle sat in judgment 1 ' Shortly 
before, Sir Egerton Brydges had recorded his im- 
pressions of the effect of a wider public ' It is a vile 
evil that literature is become so much a trade all over 
Europe. Nothing has gone so far to nurture a corrupt 
taste, and to give the unintellectual power over the 
intellectual. Merit is now universally estimated by 
the multitude of readers that an author can attract. . . , 
Will the uncultivated mind admire what delights the 
cultivated? Will the rude and coarse enjoy what is 
refined? Do the low endure the reasonings which 
justify subordination? ... In all good writings 
nothing ought to be uttered contrary to truth and 
wisdom. But the mob do not love truth they relish 
only what feeds their appetites and passions. If genius 
had only reason, integrity, feeling, and taste to appeal 
to, it would be safe ; but it has to appeal to corruption, 
prejudice, selfishness, and ignorance. . , . The public 
now, perhaps, read a great deal, but in so confused and 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 189 

immethodical a manner that they retain no impressions ; 
it is like an evanescent stamp upon moist sand. All 
they learn is to deface what they once had been taught, 
and to have no opinions at all except that every one 
may think after his own fashion, and that all old-received 
principles are narrow and unenlightened prejudices/ 
But the very tone in which he deplores the state of 
affairs shows how secure he felt his order was : the low 
did in fact endure the reasonings which justify sub- 
ordination and his style is the proof, it is as unshaken 
as Gibbon's. Another proof is that he can write un- 
questioningly of 'the control of taste and judgment,' of 
'reason and sentiment,' of 'sound thinking' and 'true 
feeling ' as his style implies a sympathetic back- 
ground so his terms postulate a cultivated public with 
an accepted scale of values. And even in Culture and 
Anarchy (1869) there is the same inner assurance. 
Arnold's critical idiom betrays the conviction that 
certain important terms essential to his argument 
' culture,' ' right reason,' ' the will of God,' ' the best 
self,' ' perfection ' do not need defining ; he 
addresses himself to the general reader (Culture and 
Anarchy was soon brought out in a sixpenny pocket 
edition and later in the still cheaper paper form) and 
yet can assume that his idiom will be intelligible to 
them. No chasm has opened between him and the 
public, for however Philistine or barbarous sections of 
it might be, and though Arnold could accurately point 
to the sources of danger, there was a strong tradition 
of respect for the things that Arnold felt to be valuable : 
there is no sense of isolation in his cheerfully ironic ' we 
poor disparaged followers of culture.' Twenty years 
later it was still open to Sir Edmund Gosse to con- 



FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

template as a distant possibility the anarchy which 
Arnold had envisaged : 

One danger which I have long foreseen from the spread 
of the democratic sentiment, is that of the traditions of literary 
taste, the canons of literature, being reversed with success by 
a popular vote. Up to the present time, in all parts of the 
world, the masses of uneducated or semi-educated persons, 
who form the vast majority of readers, though they cannot 
and do not appreciate the classics of their race, have been 
content to acknowledge their traditional supremacy. Of 
late there have seemed to me to be certain signs, especially 
in America, of a revolt of the mob against our literary masters. 
... If literature is to be judged by a plebiscite and if the 
plebs recognises its power, it will certainly by degrees cease 
to support reputations which give it no pleasure and which 
it cannot comprehend. The revolution against taste, once 
begun, will land us in irreparable chaos (a). 

But the quotation on page 1 86 shows that the possi- 
bility has now become a fact, and for a typical member 
of the journalistic profession a fact to dwell on with 
satisfaction. So complete a revolution in the outlook of 
the reading public cannot be lightly passed over. Some 
at least of the contributory factors must be mentioned. 

Undoubtedly the new journalism played a major 
part, reinforcing the more gradual influence of the new 
bestseller, but a corresponding series of social changes, 
less evident because extending over a longer period, 
helped at least as much ; without them the immediate 
success of the Northcliffes and Frankaus would have 
been impossible. The first is, of course, the more or 
less complete transformation of the upper and middle 
classes effected by the modern Public School system, 
which has replaced the famous ' eccentric ' Englishman 

(a) * What is a Great Poet ? ' (1889) in Questions at Issue. 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 191 

of the Augustan and Georgian ages by the ' simple but 
virile ' type, imposing upon a nation whose governing 
class had been for several centuries noted as having 
pronounced (because highly developed) personalities 
and keen intellectual interests, an ideal whose key- 
words are correctness and sport. 103 This ideal has had 
the effect of arresting the development of whole genera- 
tions at adolescence ; the first expressions of it in fiction 
are the novels of Thomas Hughes and the Kingsleys 
there is nothing like their writings in the language 
before them, but a very great deal after. Another 
social change of some cultural importance is that in the 
status, antecedents, and acquirements of the clergy ; it 
used to be said for the Established Church that at least 
it put a scholar and a gentleman in every parish, a 
function which it has for some time ceased to fulfil. A 
parallel is provided by two other professions formerly 
open to the serious and disinterested it is no longer 
possible for an intelligent man to make politics his 
career, like Balfour, or to earn by journalism a hand- 
some living while preserving his self-respect, like 
' Honest John ' Morley. In addition, scientific interests 
have alienated a large proportion of the more intelligent 
of the community from culture. Altogether the char- 
acter of the governing and professional classes has 
radically altered. The people with power no longer 
represent intellectual authority and culture. 

Authority depends on the recognition of standards 
other than those of rhomme moyen sensuel, and after 
many centuries of unquestioning assent to authority the 
natural man has reasserted himself. We thus have a 
situation closely resembling that of the United States, 
marking a new phase in our history and one which, as it 



192 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

is likely to continue indefinitely, is perhaps worth dwell- 
ing upon. Most noticeable is the extension of business 
ethics and all that the word * business ' implies to fields 
of activity which had formerly non-commercial values, 104 
for since the business man is the average man, the 
4 worth while ' measure must be applied all round. 
Journalists, advertising agents, editors of magazines, 
and popular authors were naturally the first to discover 
that it is more profitable to make use of man's suggesti- 
bility as a herd animal than to approach the reader as if 
he were what used to be called * the thinking man ' ; 
fear of the herd, approval of the herd, the peace of mind 
that comes from conforming with the herd, are the 
strings they play upon and the ideals that inform their 
work, 106 The practical effects of the triumph of the 
business ethos are to the anthropologist, at least 
exciting. For example, it has already been mentioned 
that the Press now depends on the advertiser * To-day 
the newspaper is, in its commercial aspect as a matter 
of pounds, shillings, and pence, a by-product of Adver- 
tising ' (Commercial Advertising, Thomas Russell, 1919). 
It is to the interest of the advertiser that the public 
should be kept from any kind of alarm so that it will 
spend without hesitation, therefore the contents of news- 
paper and magazine must create confidence, preserve 
the status quo^ reassure and divert attention from political 
and economic troubles. Hence the insistence, illus- 
trated in Part I. Chapter II., on cheerful stories, bright 
articles, happy endings, and the avoidance of any ' un- 
pleasant ' (i.e. disquieting) note. Reinforced by the 
average man's preference for a comfortable outlook, 
this has brought about a public sentiment overwhelm- 
ingly in favour of blind optimism. An inspection of the 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 193 

slogans displayed on Wayside Pulpits l08 (they repre- 
sent one of the popular substitutes for religion and their 
success makes them a reliable index) reveals that they 
are largely devoted to denunciation of an attitude de- 
scribed as pessimistic, or easy assurances of everything 
turning out well if let alone. This is not without signi- 
ficance. 107 The Wayside Pulpit posters are tags col- 
lected from such sources as newspaper headlines and 
articles, ' songs sung over the Wireless,' etc. (#), and 
they are representative of the mental stock-in-trade of 
the general public ; such tags are expressive of an atti- 
tude that they have formed, an attitude, it must be 
noted, which is not based on personal experience. Yet 
they are what the man in the street now lives and shapes 
his life by; they rise irresistibly to the lips in an 
emergency, for instance. Contrast them with the local 
and national proverbs which till recently (i.e. till such 
standardising forces as the cinema, radio, large-circula- 
tion newspapers and magazines destroyed traditional 
culture and local differences) served as a rule-of-thumb 
for dealing with the major as well as the minor situations 
of life. [Plenty of samples may be found in Adam Rede 
and The Mill on the F/oss, where the speech of the lower 
and lower-middle classes is largely composed of tradi- 
tional similes and dicta. And vide note 56.] They 
are the growth of ages of individual experience (the 
experience, that is, of the shrewdest and most intelli- 
gent of the community) tested by generations of use 
and pooled to form a stock of social wisdom. And they 
suggest that the standardising forces just mentioned 

(a) I am indebted for information about the Church Publicity Section, 
and in particular about the choice of Wayiide Pulpit potters, to the courtesy 
of the Church Publicity Secretary, Mr. Geo. S. Hint. 



194 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

have destroyed something worth preserving, if only for 
utilitarian reasons. 

The extent to which the attitude approved by the 
herd is fixed by such agencies for imposing conformity 
as the Public Schools, advertising, and the Press, cannot 
be overestimated. It is more than difficult, it is next 
to impossible, for the ordinary uncritical man to resist 
when, whichever way he looks in the street, from 
poster and hoarding, and advertisement in bu and 
tramcar, whichever paper or novel he picks up, what- 
ever play or film he attends for amusement, the pressure 
of the herd is brought to bear on him. Not the least 
effective, and certainly the most subtle part of the 
campaign, is the use of the indubitable fact that it is 
pleasanter to be one of the herd, i.e. less wear and tear 
is involved in conforming than in standing out against 
mass sentiment ; righteousness and goodwill are accord- 
ingly arrogated to the man who behaves like his fellows, 
the lowbrow, who accepts uncritically the restrictions 
imposed by the herd, while the highbrow, who does not, 
is vilified as a * superior ' or arrogant person. This has 
a direct bearing on literature. Skim through the bound 
volumes of Punch> and it becomes evident that from 
baiting the merely rich, the vulgar, and the stupid, it 
now reserves its powers, and they are by no means 
negligible, 108 for attacking nonconformity in manners 
and originality in ideas and art. There has recently 
grown up a whole Punch literature Punch humour, 
Punch essays, even Punch fiction and all markedly 
anti-highbrow. This becomes serious when one 
remembers that whereas a century ago there was a solid 
body of opinion behind the Reviews, which organised 
and expressed the attitude of the cultured minority 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 195 

' no genteel family can pretend to be without it,' Scott 
wrote of the Edinburgh Review perhaps the only 
periodical every genteel family can now be counted on 
to take is Punch. Such a volte-face has innumerable 
indirect effects on the life of the nation, 109 

It follows that in such a society the critic's office is 
not popular, criticism of any kind appearing to be dis- 
loyalty to the herd. The more subtle implications of 
literary criticism are equally distasteful, for since 
genuine criticism demands from the reader a real effort 
and continual readjustment, and above all asserts the 
standards of a severe taste, it is felt to be insulting to 
the natural man. Thus criticism has been in general 
esteem at least replaced by belles-lettres (writing 
about writing) ; a comparison between the reception 
accorded to the collection of light essays so popular now 
(a representative one would include essays on writers 
with the status of Boswell and Lamb, Masefield, 
Coventry Patmore, Beddoes, Humbert Wolfe . . .), 
and of a book attempting a critical appraisal of serious 
writers or a discussion of fundamental critical problems, 
will put this point beyond dispute. It is not merely 
that the former is invariably reviewed too kindly, but 
that animus is betrayed against the latter, a -state of 
inflammation which was noticed in Part I. Chapter II. 
as characterising the Book Clubs and the middlemen of 
literature generally. 110 Herd values in art (what the 
natural man likes in books or pictures or tunes is litera- 
ture or art or good music) tend to be supported by 
denying distinctions. This is a fair example, though 
more subtle (and insidious) instances are commoner : 

Poor is the man (and the critic, too) whose spirit is so 
illiberal as to restrain him from being on good terms simul- 



196 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

taneously with Job and Jacobs, Boccaccio and Francisof Assisi, 
Milton and Edgar Wallace, Donne and P. G. Wodehouse. 
[Twentieth Century Literature, A. C. Ward, 1928.]^) 

Here one notices the accent of hearty good-fellowship 
employed to reinforce the suggestion that any one who 
denies the P. G. Wodehouses and Edgar Wallaces a 
place in literature along with Milton and Donne is 
mean-spirited as well as arrogant. The same accent, 
the mark of ' a good mixer/ is an essential part of the 
equipment of the writer who supplies periodicals and 
newspapers with a regular weekly essay. The stock 
facetiousness about highbrow art, novel and drama, and 
* modern ' poetry, that Punch popularised has now been 
taken over by weeklies with more serious pretensions. 
Rather more subtle expressions of herd animus are to 
be found scattered throughout low- and middlebrow 
fiction : 

In 1910, the year of his most difficult and obscure volume 
of poems, Troi/us, he had suddenly, obeying an impulse that 
he did not understand, and that did not seem to be his, pub- 
lished at intervals in the columns of the august Daily World 
a number of poems about the man in the street. They had 
been rather colloquial, slangy, poems, and some of the higher 
critics had denied that they were poems at all, but they had 
immense force and energy and were as simple as Tennyson's 
* Mr. Wilkinson ' ... He delighted a wide public, because 
he provided something very rare now in England and always 
acceptable literature that was acknowledged to be fine 
superior literature, and that yet could be understood by 
everybody (b). 

Kit and Mr. Porteus sat opposite each other, for when 
Kit was at work on Latin prose and algebra, Mr. Porteus 

(a) * Judex damnatur cum nocens absolvitur ' was the motto of the 
Edinburgh Review. 

(b) Hugh Walpole, Hans Frost. 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 197 

would be amusing himself with Einstein's theory or a book 
of MacDougal's psychology. 

* Psycho-physical parallelism. What's that, Sorrell? ' 
' Don't know, sir.' 

* As a matter of fact it's rot. To be able to realise a theory 
is rot saves one a lot of trouble. Now what about ten minutes 
boxing? '(*) 

The chief difference appears to be that the middle- 
brow is anxious to get the best of both worlds while the 
lowbrow is concerned only to speak of the other with 
sufficient * knowledgeableness ' (as the advertising 
agents call it) to be able to deny its value, The quality 
of knowledgeableness is very noticeably present in the 
writings of three of the most successful and repre- 
sentative modern bestsellers, Kipling, Arnold Bennett, 
and Gilbert Frankau. Gilbert Frankau's would have 
to be the name to fill the last place in the list that 
includes Defoe . . . Richardson . . . Scott, Lytton, 
Dickens . . . Marie Corelli, Florence Barclay ; Arnold 
Bennett's weekly articles in the Evening Standard 
exhibited in the most concentrated form the spirit of 
contemporary reviewing ; while, as the Publishers' 
Circular says, ' Rudyard Kipling is the only author 
whose new poems are news events to be cabled to every 
quarter of the civilised globe/ It is significant that 
these three writers share the idiom and ideology of the 
copywriter, and that all three possess to perfection the 
* note of authority and " knowledgeableness " ' : it is 
this which principally accounts for their success as pur- 
veyors of what the public wants, 111 Gilbert Frankau's 
novels play upon the same appeals as the modern adver- 
tisement his heroes are to be visualised as the fault- 

(<z) Warwick Deeping, Sorrell and Son. 



FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

lessly groomed strong silent men with the shaving-soap 
advertisement chins, their eyes are always narrowing to 
pin- or needle-points, great play is made with the words 
* purposeful/ ' vision/ 4 urge/ ' personality/ the busi- 
ness man's self-dramatisation is the unvarying ideal 
(' calm with that peculiar frozen calmness which serves 
big men in big issues/ ' a mind trained to deal instanter 
with the minds of its fellow-men ' (#)), and so on. 
These, however, are only surface indications of the 
trend of this fiction. A suggestion was made in 
Part I. Chapter III. that the twentieth-century best- 
seller is concerned with supporting herd prejudices, and 
in fact it will be found that this kind of writing caters 
for the Babbitt element of society. Marie Corelli, Hall 
Caine, Florence Barclay, Edna Lyall, start from the 
assumption that the reader, like the writer, is passion- 
ately in favour of the Christian ethic, the accepted 
social and moral code, family affection, altruism, and 
self-sacrifice. Their successor pulls another set of 
strings, the loyalties of the club, the regiment, and the 
Public School. So the idiom employed by Arnold 
Bennett and the Book Clubs is not critical, it merely 
sizes up a work by the business man's criterion * a 
big book/ ' value for money/ ' a worth-while experi- 
ence/ * Rogue Herries is a real full-time man's job in 
fiction * the only criterion known to Mr. Frankau 
whose heroes are always aiming at ' the big things of 
life money and power ' (3). The body of a magazine 
is now carefully selected to endorse the * message ' of 
the advertisements, and it looks as though a general 
infection has taken place. It would be impossible to 
find a more complete illustration of what might be 

(a) Gilbert Frankau, Gerald Cranston s Lady. (b) Ibid. 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC X 99 

called the magazine outlook of modern fiction than 
Bennett's last novel, Imperial Pa/ace. 112 It is full of 
1 entrancing, perfect/ and * fabulously expensive ' 
women, millionaires, luxurious living, and bluff man- 
of-the-world horse-sense masquerading as psychology 
and insight. The author frankly identifies himself in 
tastes and standards with the hero (head of the most 
wonderful hotel in the world) : 

And he liked her expensive stylishness. The sight of a 
really smart woman always gave him pleasure. . . . Surely in 
the wide world that night there could not be anything to beat 
her! Idle, luxurious, rich, but a masterpiece! Maintained 
in splendour by the highly skilled and expensive labour of 
others, materially useless to society, she yet justified herself 
by her mere appearance. And she knew it, and her con- 
science was clear. 

And he thought what a shame it was that such a woman, 
such a cunning piece of femininity, should be compelled by 
fate to knit her brows over business when she ought to be 
occupied solely with her ageless charm, the attractions of her 
boudoir, and the responsiveness of men to her fine arts. 113 

Enough attention has perhaps been given to the 
effects of the overthrow of minority values, but a few 
stray threads must be drawn in before dismissing the 
subject. One is the high-level bestseller status 
achieved by Ernest Hemingway in this country (a\ 
traceable to the acceptability of the formula in which 
he so ingeniously works. The glorification of the 
1 regular man,' the figure set up by twentieth-century 
bestsellers, magazine writers, journalists, and advertisers 
in opposition to the highbrow, naturally prepared a 
sympathetic public for the simplification of existence 

(a) A Farewell to Arms was selected by the Book Society, besides achiev- 
ing a considerable reputation in higher circles. 



200 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

achieved by the hero of A Farewell to Arms and ex- 
pressed in the crude idiom of the he-man. More 
surprising is the fact that Hemingway has become 
something of a cult in highbrow circles, and this 
suggests how strong is the temptation to adopt an 
easy (because popular) attitude (a) : in contemporary 
society man separates himself from the herd at his 
peril. Then there is the effect on publishing of the 
triumph of materialistic standards. In The Commercial 
Side of Literature Michael Joseph defends the best- 
seller on the grounds that without him the publisher 
would be unable to print literature : 

One publisher of my acquaintance said to me recently, ' I 
prefer to publish fiction of quality, what most people call 
" highbrow " novels, even if the margin of profit is very 
small, rather than concentrate on slush ; but I must admit I 
couldn't afford the luxury of pleasing myself if it weren't for 
So-and-so and So-and-so ' and he named two very popular 
writers in his list ' who pay my rent and salaries and over- 
head charges.' 

This is well enough as a faute de mieux so long as the 
tradition that connects the publishing profession with 
literature survives, but there are signs that it is prepar- 
ing to snap, and when that profession too becomes a 
trade contemporary literature stands an excellent 
chance of ceasing to exist for the public at large : 

Moreover, once the standards of publishing success became 
purely pecuniary ones, the author who merely brought honour 
or glory to the house would be dropped from the books : when 
Standard Books, Inc., took over half a dozen firms, they 
would naturally ' write off ' such authors, and take good care 
that they did not appear again on the lists. I remember the 
ominous words of a capable advertising executive, one of the 

(a) Similarly, the highbrow cult of detective fiction. 



DISINTEGRATION OF READING PUBLIC 201 

best in that unfortunate trade, when I discussed the publish- 
ing business with her a few years ago. * If I consented to 
handle a publisher's advertising, I would do exactly what I 
do with other manufacturers. " How many lines do you 
produce? " Perhaps he will answer, thirty. I would say: 
" Cut them down to five and advertise them." That's the 
way to put books across ' (a). 

It has already become practically impossible to get a 
book reviewed unless it is advertised, and highbrow 
novels, which return little or no profit, cannot stand the 
enormous cost of advertising. We may well see a 
return to the primitive circulation of manuscripts 
among a select company. 

A final point must be made to prevent misunder- 
standing. Throughout Chapter III. of this part 
numerous references were made to the formative force 
of society, while in Chapter IV. an apparently identical 
force described as the herd is alleged to have over- 
thrown the work of the previous ages. * Society ' was 
to be interpreted in the eighteenth-century sense in 
which, like ' the world/ it meant a select, cultured 
element of the community that set the standards of 
behaviour and judgment, in direct opposition to the 
common people. Thus the highest definition of man 
was that of a social animal : the gregarious instinct 
he shares with sheep and wolves. The ameliorating 
influence of associating with the well-bred and culti- 
vated was universally acknowledged 1U it accounts 
for the horror of being confined in the country, away 
from * the world/ so noticeable in the literature of the 
Restoration and eighteenth century, until the Romantic 

(a) ' Publishing, Old and New,* by Lewis Mumford (The New Republic, 
October ist, 1930). The Book Clubs are, of course, just such engines of 
standardisation. 



202 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

poets discovered the superiority of solitary to social man. 
If one accepts the argument (a) that ' In any period it is 
upon a very small minority that the discerning appre- 
ciation of art and literature depends : it is only a few 
who are capable of unprompted first-hand judgment. 
. . . The accepted valuations are a kind of paper 
currency based upon a very small proportion of gold. 
To the state of such a currency the possibilities of fine 
living at any time bear a close relation/ then it becomes 
evident that the individual has a better chance of 
obtaining access to the fullest (because finest) life in a 
community dominated by * society ' than in one pro- 
testing the superiority of the herd. 

(a) Vide Mass Civilisation and Minority Culture, F. R. Leavis (Minority 
Press, 1930). 



PART III 

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE 
BESTSELLER 



The work of Charles Garvice has little artistic importance ; but 
he was a thoroughly competent craftsman. . . . Mr. Murry says 
that he can sympathise with my ( evident desire to disconcert the 
preciousness of the aesthete. 9 But when he says that things such as 
Charles Garvice made were ' simply not worth making wellj etc. y 
I charge him with precisely the preciousness of the aesthete. Was 
it not worth while to give pleasure to the na'ive millions for whom 
Charles Garvice catered honestly and to the best of his very com- 
petent ability ? Ought these millions to be deprived of what they 
like, ought they to be compelled to bore themselves with what 
Mr. Murry likes ^ merely because Mr. Murry 9 s taste is better 
than theirs ? The idea is ridiculous. The idea is snobbish in the 
worst degree. Taste is still relative. 

Things that Have Interested Me, ARNOLD BENNETT. 

(2nd Series.) 

When I take up one of Jane Austen 9 s books ^ such as ' Pride and 
Prejudice J I feel like a barkeeper entering the kingdom of heaven. 
I know what his sensation would be and his private comments. 
He would not find the place to his taste^ and he would probably 

say so. 

MARK TWAIN. 

Le cinSma materialise le pire ideal populaire. . . . Ilnes 9 agit 
pas de la fin du monde^ mats de la fin de la civilisation. 

ANATOLE FRANCE. 



THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE 
BESTSELLER 

I 

THE NOVEL 

E object of this essay has been previously 
A stated as an attempt to find an explanation of the 
situation described in Part I., a description which 
ended by raising the question whether such a state of 
affairs was conlmon to other ages or, if unique, in what 
way it differed and how it had come to pass. Part II. 
was devoted to these problems, and it should now be 
sufficiently obvious that * things ' have not * always 
been the same ' : perhaps it would be insulting not to 
leave the reader to make for himself the detailed com- 
parison between Parts I. and II. which should prove 
the point. Only general conclusions will be noted 
here, with a view to sketching an answer to the vital 
question, How does the reader of our own time 
compare with his predecessors ? 

First, we can hardly avoid noticing that the function 
of fiction has varied considerably through the last three 
and a half centuries, and that the role of fiction has 
borne a close relation to the use the reader has been 
accustomed to make of his leisure. Thus Nashe had 
to compete with the stage, Defoe with edifying 
literature; by the time the eighteenth century had 
evolved the fiction appropriate to its needs, novels 



206 



206 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

had become, in Lackington's phrase, ' excellent pro- 
ductions ' that tend to polish both the heart and the 
head/ Fiction, from being a matter of sporadic 
attempts to provide ingenious journalists with a living, 
had found a place in the life of a society whose ideal of 
' true taste and good manners ' (a) made it a useful 
means of disseminating the mode of feeling of the 
cultivated. The history of the next century of fiction 
is that of a rapidly growing public, an organised, pro- 
fession to serve it, and then inevitably of writers 
specialising in a way unknown to Defoe, studying the 
market in order to exploit it. But this would not have 
been possible unless some radical change had taken 
place in the life of the reader. The novel of Deloney 
and Defoe provided admirable amusement for a small 
part of the leisure of a people sufficiently in command of 
wide first-hand experience to be independent of fiction 
and sharing too a social life of no mean interest, so that 
in their reading they did not ask to be turned away from 
life and no journalist dreamt of ' writing down ' to 
them. Even after the Industrial Revolution, as long as 
the Puritan tradition survived, we find the same con- 
ditions hold : the journeymen and peasants and trades- 
men of the first half of the nineteenth century did not 
go to books for an escape from their lives but to qualify 
themselves to live to more purpose they devoted part 
of their leisure first to poetry, history, and criticism, 
by way of education, and then to ' the best novels,' 
though unfortunately Scott had by then superseded a 
number of the novelists in Lackington's list (). It is 
only a world run by Big Business that has produced a 

(a) Matthias, The Pursuits of Literature, 1794-97. 

(b) Vide p. 109. 



THE NOVEL 207 

civilisation whose workers must have recourse to 
substitute living. 115 

Changes in environment, then (using 'environment* 
broadly to mean all external circumstances which 
determine the pattern of the average life), are seen to be 
primarily responsible for the kind of fiction the general 
public requires and gets. 116 But the environment is 
ultimately responsible for a great deal more : it de- 
termines the extent to which the man in the street has 
access to literature, the market that the serious novelist 
can count on ; that is to say, in the last event, the 
quality of living and the solvency of literature. Thus 
conclusions about Parts I. and II. can be marshalled 
most serviceably in three divisions (a) Changes in 
environment, () Changes in the book-market, (c) 
Changes in reading capacity. A composite picture has 
been offered of what has happened to the reading 
public in three centuries, with an attempt to state the 
bare facts and suggest relations and causes without 
involving value-judgments. The reader will not need 
to be abnormally acute to detect instances where this 
attempt has necessarily broken down. For the signi- 
ficance of the whole subject is the questions it raises 
(one of them is posited by the first extract attached to 
this section) which must be faced by any one aspiring 
to candour. It had better be admitted straightway that 
there are no simple answers to these highly com- 
plicated questions a fact on which people like the late 
Arnold Bennett triumphantly trade but with patience 
and goodwill a satisfactory agreement between those 
genuinely interested can be arrived at or at any rate a 
tenable position found. Since most of us are rather 
concerned to defend our own attitude, which from 



ao8 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

laziness or indifference or worse is more likely than not 
to be the anti-highbrow * taste is still relative/ than to 
take part in the strenuous process of justifying our 
finer awareness, it is as well to state in advance that 
whatever case may be made out from the findings of 
this study, the wholehearted Rotarian, the com- 
fortable believer in optimism and the idea of Progress, 
the upholder of the joys of having a good time, and 
their equivalents in the world of letters, are not likely 
to be moved. It is as much as can be expected if they 
are made uncomfortable. 

In what terms, by what scale, one asks, can decline 
or improvement be assessed? How can the reading 
public of the early seventeenth century be compared 
with that of the twentieth ? Here the three categories 
devised above come in useful, for if we want an 
impersonal standard to measure by we should start by 
showing that the market is now, owing to popular 
fiction, in a less healthy state for literature (vide note 35, 
p. 161 and notes, pp. 31-2, p. 172, p. 200), whose im- 
portance can be assumed to need no demonstrating to 
any reader of this essay. Then, with these facts in hand, 
to Arnold Bennett's rhetorical questions, ' Was it not 
worth while to give pleasure to the naive millions for 
whom Charles Garvice catered . . .? Ought these 
millions to be deprived of what they like because . . . ? ' 
etc., one will be in a position to reply, without more 
exaggeration than is justified, ' When any one buys 
a volume of Charles Garvice he is doing harm to 
literature/ [It has then to be shown that when he 
reads it he is doing harm to himself. But this must be 
left till last.] 

While we are all no doubt agreed that it is desirable 



THE NOVEL 209 

that literature should flourish, it is perhaps not as 
evident that the average man suffers from exclusion 
from the world of art. But when it was found in Part I. 
(pp. 38-9) that the man in the street is now cut off 
from literature, the statement had more serious im- 
plications than might have been supposed for, it will 
be argued, Defoe's and Bunyan's public too were 
outside * the circumference of wit ' and generations of 
country folk have lived to some purpose without the aid 
of books other than their Bible. But these had a real 
social life, they had a way of living that obeyed the 
natural rhythm and furnished them with genuine or 
what might be called, to borrow a word from the copy- 
writer, * creative ' interests country arts, traditional 
crafts and games and singing, not substitute or kill- 
time interests like listening to radio and gramophone, 
looking through newspapers and magazines, watching 
films and commercial football, and the activities con- 
nected with motor cars and bicycles, the only way of 
using leisure known to the modern city-dweller for 
it is now only the suburban or urban dweller who 
counts (vide note 31), the average man is ' the man in 
the street,' When 

The pianola replaces 
Sappho's barbitos, 

national life suffers: fantasy-fiction 117 is the typical 
reading of a people whose normal impulses are starved 
of the means of expression. 118 The old culture of the 
English countryside (it still lingers on in diminished 
vigour in the few remote parts to which even the motor 
coach has not yet penetrated) (a) was a great deal more 

(a) Cf. Small Talk at Wreyland (Cecil Torr), in which a dying culture is 
mirrored, just caught in time, with Change in the Villag: (' George Bourne '), 

O 



2io FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

inclusive than we are inclined to suppose ; it had room 
for local variations in the tempo of living, and it 
provided a ritual and a code which made possible even 
for the illiterate a decent, a comely, and a satisfying 
existence. As a proof, compare the idiom of such 
people, as recorded for example in the novels of Hardy 
and George Eliot and T. F. Powys, the notebooks of 
Mr. Cecil Torr and the writings of Mr. George Sturt, 
with the suburban idiom spoken around us and us^d by 
journalists. It is the latter that is inflexible and brutal. 
The cottager was far from being inarticulate : from 
Bunyan's day to our own there is plenty of evidence 
that the Authorised Version provided a medium of 
self-expression (without displacing the sound pagan 
philosophy of the folk), the biblical idiom serving as a 
mould into which their feelings could be poured and 
so richly and finely take shape. The newspaper and 
radio have destroyed this, and the suburban culture 
with its absence of a personal life and a personal idiom 
has failed to produce anything like as subtle a 
medium (a) (vide p, 57 and note 39). The new idiom is 
less adequate since it is incapable of flexibility, it has no 
fine rhythms to draw upon, and it is not serious (i.e. 
has no room for expression of spontaneous personal 

and ' England" s Green and Pleasant Land* (Anon.), where two once vigorous 
agricultural communities are shown, reflecting the general plight of the 
English countryside, the one destroyed by enclosure of the commons and 
subsequent suburbanising, the other drained of its best stock by the city and 
struggling against the resultant anaemia. 

(a) An otherwise undistinguished novel, Spring Darkness, by John Met- 
calf (1928), is interesting since it conveys the emptiness and meaningless 
iteration of the suburban life ; so also, but unconsciously, does The English 
Miss, R. H. Mottram (1926). The Suburban Toung Man and other novels 
of E. M. Delafield (popular circulating library fiction) are excellent illustra- 
tions of the idiom of that life, in which everything said has a stale flavour 
of having been acquired from the newspaper or magazine. 



THE NOVEL 211 

feeling) : it is not only formed to convey merely crude 
states of mind but it is destructive of any fineness. 

So whereas for the type represented by Bunyan 
literature did not matter, it is of the gravest importance 
that what the twentieth century reads should modify 
and correct the influence of environment. It is only by 
acquiring access to good poetry, great drama, and the 
best novels, the forms of art that, since they achieve 
their effects through language, most readily improve 
the quality of living, that the atmosphere in which we 
live may be oxygenated. But poetry no longer exists 
for the general public (vide note 7) ; still less drama 
of any significance, and the bestseller, the magazine 
story, and the circulating library novel are all that is 
read in the way of fiction. What the average reader 
now goes to fiction for was discussed in Part I. Chap- 
ter III., and of the four reasons why people read novels 
summarised on p. 48, only the last was not investigated 
for the last is the highbrow's, ahd popular fiction 
does not afford occasion for that approach. 

The distinction between a great novel and a best- 
seller is analogous to the distinction between good 
poetry and successful bad poetry. [A poem may be 
bad for two reasons : because it fails to be a good one 
e.g. some of Shelley and Wordsworth ; or because it 
does with complete success something that is not bene- 
ficial most popular poems come in here, e.g. the work 
of successful bad poets like Chesterton, Kipling, Ella 
Wheeler Wilcox.] Great novels are frequently doing 
something like good poetry, the bestsellers of verse and 
of fiction are also doing something comparable, but 
quite different from the effect of the great novel and 
good poem if they were not doing something for the 



.FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

class of reader who forms the general public they would 
not be bestsellers. They are, in brief, engaged in 
establishing undesirable attitudes (a) (vide Part I. 
Chapter III., Part II. Chapter IV. i and 3). It 
remains to find what the great novel does for the reader, 
how it works, and, most important for purposes of this 
inquiry, what capacities it demands from the reader. 

In so far as a novel like a poem, is made of words, 
much of what Mr. Richards says of poetry (H) can be 
adapted to apply to the novel, but even so the critic 
does not get much help, for there is an important differ- 
ence between the way a novel and a poem takes effect. 
A poem is so much more delicate and compact an 
organisation than a novel that the whole depends on the 
quality of the part in criticising a poem one can safely 
bear out one's general impression by examining par- 
ticular passages, the poem succeeds or fails at every 
point. But the novel is diffused, it cannot be read 
through at a sitting, and the whole is apt to be lost sight 
of in the immediacy of the parts. It is more like a poem 
seen in sections through a microscope so highly 
magnified that to perceive its total rhythm and so esti- 
mate its value with conviction is a feat attended with 
the greatest difficulty. [The novel has, however, in 
consequence of this difference, some advantages one 
is that it can be read more easily ; another is that it can 
be translated, so that while Faust or Le Cimetilre Marin 
cannot be apprehended as works of art in English, we 
can get something comparable to the original experi- 
ence and so make a rough guess at the value of Anna 

(a) In the sense of attitude =imaginal and incipient activities or tendencies 
to action, as defined by Mr. I. A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism, 
Chap. xv. 

(b) In Principles of Literary Criticism. 



THE NOVEL 213 

Karenina or The Possessed or A la recherche du tempi 
perdu in another language than that in which it was 
written.] The critic of a poem can usually cite his 
poem, or at least specimen stanzas and crucial pas- 
sages, and the question What is a poem? has been 
settled, in Principles of Literary Criticism, to the satis- 
faction of most of us and the relief of the critic. The 
critic of the novel is not in this happy position. He 
cannot even cite a chapter (the equivalent of a stanza or 
a line), and the paragraph or two that he may reason- 
ably quote is too short an extract to set up the rhythm 
of the book. The novel does not stand or fall by its 
parts; it has room for bad writing, dull spells, and 
feeble interludes, and can carry them all off George 
Eliot, Conrad, and Hardy, to take notable instances, 
are guilty of all this and yet are serious and important 
novelists and the critic cannot safely dismiss Tht 
Return of the Native because the staple of its prose is 
abominable and because when a climax is reached 
(Book V. Chap, in.) the writing collapses into ludicrous 
melodrama. Such a collapse in a poem would betray 
an instability of poise and a fundamental falseness oi 
feeling in the poet, on the strength of which we need 
have no hesitation in finding the poem a failure. But 
in a novel it may only show that this is where the 
novelist's interest ceases, it merely demonstrates a 
limitation of the novelist's make-up .which may be 
fatal, as in the case of Scott, or may not if the novelist 
is wise enough, like Hardy, to keep his subject-mattei 
as far as possible within the limitst of his experience 
(he is admirable so long as he is not dealing with edu- 
cated people or describing what he is not interested in), 
By the time the fifth book of The Return of the Native is 



214 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

reached Hardy has set up his rhythm which carries the 
reader unfalteringly over the weak spot, for with the 
expectation aroused by the first chapter and satisfied for 
long stretches, a break here and there does not matter. 
The novel's effect, then, is cumulative, and such a 
form demands from the reader a prolonged expenditure 
of effort. To be equal to this demand is the first 
requisite in a reader. The other constituents of reading 
capacity can be lumped together as ability to cope with 
the ' meaning,' adopting the division of Meaning into 
Sense, Tone, Feeling, and Intention made in Practical 
Criticism (a). To the degree that the reader has these 
capacities he is free of literature. And the reading 
capacity of various ages may be gauged by the demands 
made on each by its popular fiction, which since it was 
by definition widely read is the fairest test of the general 
reading level at any given time. 

(a) Practical Criticism, I. A. Richards, pp. 181-2, where Tone signifies 
the attitude of author to reader and Feeling the attitude of author to what 
he has to say. 



II 

READING CAPACITY 

' I ^HE writer will probably have been thought to 
X lay undue stress throughout Parts I. and II. on 
certain aspects of civilisation which may have appeared 
to have only the loosest connection with the object of 
this study ; but the attention paid to the nature of the 
society of each age, its idiom, mceurs^ and preoccupa- 
tions, can now be justified. Where the general reader 
is concerned, the capacity for cumulative reading is 
formed or destroyed by environment ; ability to follow 
the sense of an author depends on mental habits less 
personal than social ; susceptibility to tone is finally a 
test of manners ; the quality of the popular novelist's 
feeling about what he writes is an indication of the 
degree of seriousness the age permits, and the nature 
of his intention is conditioned by the degree of familiar- 
ity with literary technique at which the general public 
has arrived. All but a few novelists, then, are depend- 
ent on the extent to which the reader can be expected 
to co-operate. 

The kind of demand made by Elizabethan prose was 
outlined in Part II. Chapter II. (vide pp. 87-8), 
where Nashe was selected as the journalist whose style 
is most intensively characteristic of the popular writing 
of the time. It is * difficult ' prose, that is, the modern 
reader cannot absorb it as easily as the prose with 
which he is provided by contemporary journalists and 
popular authors. It is necessary to enquire why the 
common reader of the sixteenth century found no im- 

215 



216 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

pediment where his twentieth-century descendant is 
barred out. Consider two later novelists who are also 
now reckoned difficult, Sterne (vide p. 134) and 
Virginia Woolf (vide pp. 60-6 1). It will be convenient 
to reproduce the sentence already quoted from The 
Unfortunate Traveller in order to compare it with a 
specimen of the last novelist (it is no use inspecting a 
fragment of Sterne, for reasons that will be explained 
presently) : 

(a) Verie devout Asses they were, for all they were so dunstic- 
ally set forth, and such as thought they knew as much of 
God's minde as richer men: why inspiration was their 
ordinarie familiar, and buzd in their eares like a Bee in a boxe 
everie hower what newes from heaven, hell, and the land of 
whipperginnie, displease them who durst, he should have his 
mittimus to damnation ex tempore, they would vaunt there 
was not a pease difference betwixt them and the Apostles, 
they were as poor as they, of as base trades as they, and no 
more inspired than they, and with God there is no respect of 
persons, onely herein may seeme some little diversitie to lurk, 
that Peter wore a sword, and they count it flat hel fire for 
anie man to weare a dagger : nay, so grounded and gravelled 
were they in this opinion, that now when they should come to 
Battell, theres never a one of them would bring a blade (no, 
not an onion blade) about hym to dye for it. 

(b) The gruff murmur, irregularly broken by the taking out 
of pipes and the putting in of pipes which had kept on assur- 
ing her, though she could not hear what was said (as she sat 
in the window), that the men were happily talking; this 
sound, which had lasted now half an hour and had taken its 
place soothingly in the scale of sounds pressing on top of her, 
such as the tap of balls upon bats, the sharp, sudden bark now 
and then, * How's that? How's that? ' of the children playing 
cricket, had ceased; so that the monotonous fall of the waves 
on the beach, which for the most part beat a measured and 
soothing tattoo to her thoughts and seemed consolingly to 



READING CAPACITY 217 

repeat over and over again as she sat with the children the 
words of some old cradle song, murmured by nature, * I am 
guarding you I am your support '; but at other times sud- 
denly and unexpectedly, especially when her mind raised itself 
slightly from the task in hand, had no such kindly meaning, 
but like a ghostly roll of drums remorselessly beat the measure 
of life, made one think of the destruction of the island and its 
engulfment in the sea, and warned her whose day had slipped 
past in one quick doing after another that it was all ephemeral 
as a rainbow this sound which had been observed and con- 
cealed under the other sounds suddenly thundered hollow in 
her ears and made her look up with an impulse of terror. 

It is evident that the difficulty the reader has with 
the passage (a) is in a great part due to an incoherence 
in the author's mind and a complete absence of con- 
sideration for the- reader in the way he chooses to 
express himself. With Nashe, as with his contempo- 
raries generally, everything that comes to the author's 
mind irresistibly provokes an illustration and is only 
too likely to blaze up into a metaphor, which is then 
pursued for its own sake until it palls or is deserted 
for another more tempting ; ultimately there is a leap 
back to the point of departure and a fresh dart forwards, 
with the same result as before. Such prose is the out- 
come of a restlessly active mind, that, distracted by the 
tug-of-war of its many interests, and childlike, cannot 
bear to stop to sort out or to abandon anything where 
all are treasures. Nashe's reader is following a hare- 
and-hound trail, and the twentieth century is out of 
training for cross-country work, so long has it been 
accustomed to writers who take pains to make their 
line of thought apparent ; for it is a difficulty of sense 
only. But the public Nashe addressed was admirably 
trained in such exercise. Sermon and drama and music 



2i8 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

(vide Part II. Chapter I.) had accustomed it to follow 
attentively and alertly, and with the workings of Nashe's 
kind of mind it was, through the medium of its amuse- 
ments, familiar. The term ' nimble wits ' is a catch- 
word of the period this quicksilver quality of the 
mind was evidently prized and cultivated by the Eliza- 
bethan, and there are everywhere signs that both author 
and public enjoyed exerting their powers in this direc- 
tion. Since that time we have cleared up our habits 
of punctuation, spelling, paragraphing, and sentence- 
construction, and in the process have removed a large 
part of the difficulty Nashe's reader was exposed to. 
On the other hand, that reader had to concentrate, and 
an author who could count on this as the Elizabethan 
clearly could and did could allow himself far more 
licence than any popular author of the nineteenth or 
twentieth centuries ; the sixteenth and seventeenth 
centuries sat down to read with different expectations 
from the readers observed in Part I. Reading was 
then almost inseparably associated with reading aloud 
(punctuation, for instance, was for the voice and not 
the sense), as it seems to have been with the Romans, 
and this would tend not only to slow down the tempo 
of reading but also to disentangle the threads. 

Yet the kind of ability manifested by the Elizabethan 
reader is not incompatible with naivety (a) : Nashe's 
public would have been bewildered if faced with the 
modern magazine story or such a recent bestseller as 
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, whose slick technique is the 
product of centuries of journalistic experience and 
whose effect depends entirely on the existence of a set 
of stock responses provided by newspaper and film, 

(a) Vide pp. 89-91. 



READING CAPACITY 219 

Nor could Sterne's novels have been written in any 
earlier age. There is no possibility of illustrating by 
quotation the kind of difficulty presented by Tristram 
Shandy, for it is not at all a difficulty of sense. Nashe's 
writing is a display of undisciplined mental vigour, 
whereas Sterne's art is essentially conscious and 
studied ; he is all along playing a game with the 
reader in which all his cards are on the table see, 
for instance, the last part of Book VI., Book I. 
Chapter xxn. 

... In this long digression, which I was accidentally led 
into, as in all my digressions (one only excepted) there is a 
master-stroke of digressive skill, the merit of which has all 
along, I fear, been overlooked by my reader, not for want 
of penetration in him, but because 'tis an excellence seldom 
looked for, or expected indeed, in a digression; and it is 
this: That tho' my digressions are all fair, as you observe, 
and that I fly off from what I am about, as far, and as often 
too, as any writer in Great Britain ; yet I constantly take care 
to order affairs so that my main business does not stand still 
in my absence. 

I was just going, for example, to have given you the great 
out-lines of my uncle Toby's most whimsical character; 
when my aunt Dinah and the coachman came across us, and 
led us a vagary some millions of miles into the very heart of 
the planetary system: Notwithstanding all this, you perceive 
that the drawing of my uncle Toby's character went on gently 
all the time; not the great contours of it, that was impos- 
sible, but some familiar strokes and faint designations of it, 
were here and there touch 'd on, as we went along, so that 
you are much better acquainted with my uncle Toby now than 
you was before, etc. 

-and Book II. Chapter iv. which opens : 

I would not give a groat for that man's knowledge in pen- 
craft, who does not understand this, That the best plain 



220 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

narrative in the world, tacked very close to the last spirited 
apostrophe to my uncle Toby would have felt both cold and 
vapid upon the reader's palate; therefore I forthwith put 
an end to the chapter, though I was in the middle of my 
story. 

Such a technique requires a far more subtle under- 
standing between author and public than was possible 
in the early period described in Part II. Chapter I. ; it 
depends on the establishment of a social tone. 119 
Sterne's eccentric style, with his blank, black, and 
marbled pages, his dots and dashes, asterisks, paren- 
theses and curious type-setting, is essential to his 
intention ; his progress, like Byron's in Don Juan, is 
not structural but consists in rapid variations in the 
scale offee/ingy in unexpected changes in the emotional 
pressure. There is no other pattern in Tristram Shandy 
or The Sentimental Journey (or Don Juan\ and so no 
reason, as Sterne himself was perfectly aware (a\ why 
they should ever stop. His public read and admired him 
for this virtuosity. It could do so since it had the ad- 
vantage of a social literature (Pope and Addison were 
both the classics and bestsellers of the eighteenth 
century) which had previously developed the possi- 
bilities of the civilised emotions (vide pp. 121-5). ^ 
is always, in Pope, Addison, Sterne, an elegant tear, 
a delicately poised smile, a distribution of emotion and 
a reservation of the critical faculty this poise is in- 
compatible with tragedy but neither is it susceptible 
to ridicule : it is equally removed from the naive 
humour and full-bodied tragic passion of the Eliza- 
bethan audience on the one side and from the undis- 
criminating surrender to bursts of laughter and storms 

(a) Vide Book I. Chap. xxn. 



READING CAPACITY 221 

of tears of Dickens's public on the other. Unless 
one is prepared to work steadily through fantastically 
distorted sentences about nothing, chapters of digres- 
sions and pages of irrelevancies, with no reward but the 
satisfaction of a taste for virtuosity, Sterne will yield 
nothing. Part of this highly sophisticated entertain- 
ment is that the reader's expectations are constantly 
teased, threatened with frustration, and finally ful- 
filled only to be burlesqued immediately afterwards. 
Sterne's prose exhibits another kind of high spirits 
than Nashe's, and just as the latter required certain 
capacities which were provided for by the contem- 
porary background, so, without such a social and literary 
education as the Tatler and Pope's poetry stand for, 
Sterne would have had no public. As it was, each 
fresh volume of Sterne's was rapturously received ; it 
was a public prepared to take some trouble for its 
pleasures, and the function of the novel was recognised 
as something more than an amusement ' to polish the 
heart and the head.' The last three or four books >of 
Tristram Shandy are actually more perversely irre- 
levant and have even less story content than the 
previous books. A generation later (vide pp. 1 34-5) the 
reading public had become less athletic, for reasons 
discussed in Part II. Chapter III. ; it exhibited a 
tendency to select those portions of Tristram Shandy 
and The Sentimental Journey which elicit merely the 
responses * How touching ' and ' How true.' In 
Sterne's imitators and successors we completely miss 
that exploration of diverse planes of feeling that make 
Pope and Sterne at once so mobile and so assured. 

There is no reason, therefore, why both Nashe and 
Sterne, * difficult ' writers as they now are, should not 



222 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

have been popular in their own day : the conditions of 
the age made them accessible to the common reader. 
But the difficulty presented by To the Lighthouse is not 
only more formidable and complex than that of The 
Unfortunate Travellers Tristram Shandy, it is especially 
calculated to baffle the general public of the twentieth 
century. First, comparing the style of the passages 
quoted above, one notices that it would be impossible 
to rearrange (b), as (a) could be rearranged, for the 
greater convenience of the reader, nor could (b) be 
pruned and adjusted, to the same end, without altering 
its substance. Whereas Nashe's metaphors are ex- 
planatory, piquant, humorous, etc., Virginia Woolfs 
are on a higher level of seriousness the Elizabethan 
prose writer was unable to resist running off into 
similes and metaphors (a form of self-indulgence 
uncommon in subsequent less virile ages), but the 
latter's thoughts and perceptions inevitably flower into 
images, like a poet's. The complex mode of feeling 
can only be conveyed thus in images, with just as much 
indication of the sense as will serve for a spring-board 
to the reader. Thus to a public accustomed to nothing 
more ambitious than the elementary prose of the 
journalist (vide pp. 1 84-5) the style of To the Lighthouse 
is formidable in the extreme. Again, the tone is pro- 
hibitive to any one who does not share the author's 
cultural background, and the subtle play of feeling a 
matter here of intonation and stress, less easily grasped 
than Sterne's plain dealing baffling to an age that 
does not read poetry. Above all, the intention is the 
final barrier the usual complaints of would-be readers 
of Mrs. Woolf's novels are * She doesn't write about 
anything,' ' Her characters aren't real,' and ' There 



READING CAPACITY 223 

isn't any story ' (a). The novels are in fact highbrow 
art. The reader who is not alive to the fact that To the 
Lighthouse is a beautifully constructed work of art will 
make nothing of the book (vide pp. 60-6 1). And it is 
not an easily perceived structure, as in Tom Jones, 
where it is a matter of frank engineering, or in The 
Awkward Age and The Ambassadors^ where it is a 
question of a fairly obvious architectual design (). The 
full force of the novel is only perceived jn the third 
part, where almost everything refers back and gives 
significance to earlier passages. Passage (b) quoted 
above to illustrate the complexity of the style is one 
of the central significant moments (it is constantly 
.caught up in the third part of the novel). The tech- 
nique and the intention (c) are poetic, and To the Light- 
house requires that the reader should have had a training 
in reading poetry. 

To the Lighthouse is not a popular novel (though it 
has already taken its place as an important one), and 
it is necessary to enquire why the conditions of the age 
have made it inaccessible to a public whose ancestors 
have been competent readers of Sterne and Nashe. The 
sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, we 

(a) Variations actually confided to the writer were : * I don't seem to get 
any kick out of Virginia Woolf * (from a bestseller); and * She doesn't get 
anywhere/ 

(b) Compare the movement of (a) and (b) (a) is irresponsible, behind 
(b) is a complex sensibility eyes, nerves, intelligence, are controlled and 
directed to an end. 

(c) * Phrases came. Visions came. Beautiful pictures. But what she 
wished to get hold of was that very jar upon the nerves, the thing itself before 
it has been made anything. Get that and start afresh ; get that and start 
afresh ; she said desperately, pitching herself firmly again before her easel. 
It was a miserable machine, an inefficient machine, she thought, the human 
apparatus for painting or for feeling 5 it always broke down at the critical 
moment 5 heroically, one must force it on.* To the Lighthouse, p. 297. 



224 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

have seen, trained certain capacities, gave a certain 
education to the average man. The training of the 
reader who spends his leisure in cinemas, looking 
through magazines and newspapers, listening to jazz 
music, does not merely fail to help him, it prevents him 
from normal development (vide Part II. Chapter IV.), 
partly by providing him with a set of habits inimical to 
mental effort. Even in small matters it gets in his 
way: for example, the preconceptions acquired. from 
the magazine story and the circulating library novel 
are opposed to any possibility of grasping a serious 
novelist's intention. 120 Northcliffe's interference with 
reading habits alone has effectively put literature out of 
the reach of the average man. Chapters II., III., and 
IV. of Part II. make it apparent that whereas the 
eighteenth century and nineteenth century helped the 
reader, the twentieth century hinders whereas the tide 
was with a man born between 1740 and 1840 seek- 
ing self-cultivation, it is now against him (cf. Part II. 
Chapters II. and IV. 2, 3), in spite of the machinery 
for passing him from elementary to secondary school 
and university (it is, of course, comparatively easy for 
the modern Lackington to become a prosperous Babbitt 
or even one of the Book Club public). Consider the 
ease^with which the Lackingtons absorbed works of the 
dimensions and density of Clarissa, Tristram Shandy, 
Paradise Lost, Gibbon's Decline and Fall, Pope's 
Homer, Johnson's essays. This meant, stating it in 
the lowest terms, an inability to be bored and a capacity 
to concentrate, 121 due in part, no doubt, to the fact 
that there was no competition of amusements provided. 
Life was not then a series of frivolous stimuli as it now 
is for the suburban dweller, 122 and there was time for 



READING CAPACITY 225 

the less immediate pleasures. The temptation 123 to 
accept the cheap and easy pleasures offered by the 
cinema, the circulating library, the magazine, the news- 
paper, the dance-hall, and the loud-speaker is too much 
for almost every one. To refrain would be to exercise 
a severer self-discipline than even the strongest- 
minded are likely to practise, for only the unusually 
self-disciplined can fight against their environment and 
only the unusually self-aware could perceive the neces- 
sity of doing so. For Lackington's contemporaries the 
discipline was imposed by circumstance without refer- 
ence to the individual, which is partly what was meant 
by the assertion that the age was in their favour. ' My 
father's library was on a small scale,' wrote Eliza 
Fletcher (a) : fewer books came the way of the common 
reader (for one thing far fewer were published, so that 
less sifting of rubbish had to be done), but they were 
almost invariably literature, and a large proportion non- 
fiction. It will have been noticed in Part II. Chapter II. 
how inferior a place the novel occupied in comparison 
with solid reading good poetry (Shakespeare, Milton, 
Dryden, Pope), good criticism (Johnson, the Reviews) 
good prose (Swift, Addison, Gibbon), serious thinking 
(Locke, Hume, Berkeley, the seventeenth -century 
divines). An apposite quotation from Coleridge may 
serve to make the point more effectively than an 
argument : 

It is noticeable, how limited an acquaintance with the 
master-pieces of art will suffice to form a correct and even a 
sensitive taste, where none but master-pieces have been seen 
and admired: while on the other hand, the most correct 
notions, and the widest acquaintance with the works of excel- 

(*) Vide p. 147. 
P 



226 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

lence of all ages and countries, will not perfectly secure us 
against the contagious familiarity with the far more numerous 
offspring of tastelessness or of a perverted taste. If this be the 
case, as it notoriously is, with the arts of music and painting, 
how much more difficult will it be, to avoid the infection of 
multiplied and daily examples in the practice of an art, which 
uses words, and words only, as its instruments (a). 

Now compare the environment described in Part I. 
and Part II. Chapter IV. The mere appearance of the 
printed page has altered, in the direction determined by 
Northcliffe, so that its contents are to be skimmed : the 
temptation for the modern reader is not to read properly 
i.e. with the fullest attention (the practice that died 
only with the last generation of reading aloud in the 
family circle was the best possible insurance of good 
reading habits and mere trash, moreover, will not 
stand this test). We have no practice in making the 
effort necessary to master a work that presents some 
surface difficulty or offers no immediate repayment ; we 
have not trained ourselves to persevere at works of the 
extent of Clarissa and the seriousness of Johnson's 
essays, and all our habits incline us towards preferring 
the immediate to the cumulative pleasure. Hence one 
of the few valuable novels of the twentieth century, 
Lawrence's The Rainbow, whose intention required that 
it should move in a slow, laboured cycle, is hardly read : 
it tajces so long to set up its rhythm (in spite of the 
magnificent opening) that few readers are willing or 
able to give it the time and energy it requires. A novel 
that cannot be taken in at one reading stands little 
chance of a public in the twentieth century. 

So for a nation of newspaper-readers a substitute 

(a) Biographia Literana y Chap. XXII. 



READING CAPACITY 227 

literature has appeared : instead of Gibbon the public 
of Part I. has the school of amusing biography; instead 
of Johnson intimate little volumes of belles-lekres ; 
even science must be popular and theology bright for 
an age which demands that its reading shall be light 
and explicitly disavow seriousness. The recent tend- 
ency of publishers to produce works on religion, 
morality, history, politics ... by getting the more 
notorious members of Church and State and Science to 
contribute their views, or even by reprinting such views 
from the columns of the popular Press and from B.B.C. 
talks, is significant. Anthologies and symposia are 
infinitely more ' readable ' (a) than complete works, 
but very much less valuable mental training (cf. 
pp. 86-7). In Part II. Chapter II. it was noticed how 
the models of good writing were for so long generally 
recognised to be Swift, Addison, Goldsmith ; a critic 
a century hence consulting the prose anthologies of the 
post-war age for data would have reason to conclude 
that the twentieth-century equivalents are Chesterton, 
Belloc, and the factitious peroration of Queen Victoria. 
Certainly the popular ideal of * style ' has completely 
changed. That change began when the mannered 
writing of the Romantic essayists, and later on of 
Pater, Meredith, and R. L. Stevenson, filtered down 
through the Press as the higher journalese : style 
became then something recognisably literary as distinct 
from educated speech-idiom (cf. pp. 122-3). Hence 
the thick-and-rich prose reeking with personality of 
twentieth-century favourites 124 not merely middle- 
brow stylists like Chesterton, Belloc, C. E. Montague, 

(a) Post-war books are apt to be praised by reviewers and advertised as 
* readable/ The implications of this term cannot be exhausted in a footnote. 



228 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

Maurice Hewlett, but bestsellers of widespread popu- 
larity such as A. S. M. Hutchinson, Kipling, Michael 
Arlen. The kind of advertisements that appear in 
Punch and the luxurious weeklies (class (d\ p. 1 1) to 
advertise high-class products tend to employ persuasive 
copy rather than mere illustrations, and on this account 
are worth inspecting ; they reveal that the copywriters 
have formed their notions of good writing on the 
stylists just mentioned and have reason for supposing 
that the public they aim at reaching shares their 
taste. 125 Now this taste is allied to the need for stimu- 
lant it helps to hold the reader's attention, 126 it is 
partly the product of the new magazine and newspaper 
(whose influence has been discussed in Part II. Chapter 
IV. 2), and it still further removes the common reader 
from literature. A taste formed on mannered prose at 
the journalist's level is certain to find the classics of the 
language and the best contemporary literature insipid 
and dull. 

His environment is even more subtly against 
the twentieth-century reader than this account may 
suggest. It was affirmed on p. 71 that in the post- 
war civilisation ' the rate at which cultural news pene- 
trates is surprisingly slow ' surprisingly, that is, 
considering the elaborate machinery for disseminating 
such news which that civilisation possesses. But 
when this machinery is examined, the newspaper, the 
cinema, and so on are seen actually to form and 
accentuate the stratification which was noticed as a 
striking peculiarity of the twentieth-century public ; 
whatever their function may be in theory they do in 
fact harden their public, not render it adaptable, 
conserve popular prejudice, not correct it, above 



READING CAPACITY 229 

all, induce attitudes which they may profitably ex- 
ploit. Similarly the Book Clubs described in Part L 
Chapter IL are instruments not for improving taste 
but for standardising it at the middlebrow level, thus 
preventing the natural progression of taste that in the 
later eighteenth century, for instance, was assisted. 
Now, considering this background and these formative 
influences, it is not difficult to account for the dis- 
appearance of poetry from the average man's reading. 
Poetry was widely read throughout the seventeenth 
and eighteenth centuries and for at least the first half 
of the nineteenth century : not only the acknowledged 
classics Shakespeare, Paradise Lost, Dryden, Pope 
3ut the successive new poets Gray, Goldsmith, 
fohnson, Cowper, Burns, Wordsworth, Coleridge, 
Byron, Keats, Shelley, Tennyson ; Don Juan reached 
*ven the strict Puritan households (for Byron's 
prestige Praeterita is the best witness, in which even 
Ruskin's evangelical parents are described as regu- 
larly reading aloud to the family Byron's poetry, and 
Pope's, and Johnson's works, as well as Shakespeare 
and the Bible, and their ambition for their son was that 
he should become as great a poet as Byron). The 
eighteenth-century reader, we have seen, was prepared 
to give as much as an author could demand : the 
suppleness, concentration, and critical awareness de- 
manded (and at that time received) by Tom Jones, 
Tristram Shandy, Gibbon, Swift's irony and Johnson's 
criticism, are exactly what are required of the reader of 
the eighteenth-century poets, from Dryden to Crabbe. 
The general public were then qualified to make the 
acquaintance of the best poetry as well as of the best 
novels and the best criticism of their time, coming to 



230 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

that poetry in the right attitude and with adequate 
reading habits. The work of Shelley, Spenser, Keats, 
and Tennyson, and eventually of the Pre-Raphaelites, 
which, with the ballads and Milton's minor poems, in 
the next century superseded the eighteenth-century 
poetry, required (at any rate in the way they were 
generally read) less scrupulous attention. They 
yielded a warm, sensuous gratification to the most 
careless perusal, while at the same time limiting to the 
later Romantic convention of the poetical the scope 
of the poet's interests and so of the reader's sympathy. 
To read any of the popular poetry of the eighteenth 
century it is at least essential to keep awake in order to 
follow the sense, and above all necessary to respond as 
an adult. The loss in maturity and poise noticeable 
between Pope and Shelley is paralleled by the same 
disparity between Sterne and Thackeray, Jane Austen 
and Charlotte Bronte, Smollett and Dickens. The 
nineteenth-century writers appeal at a different level, 
they require far less from the reader and they repay 
him abundantly in inferior coin. Just as the poetry of 
the Victorian Romantics appealed to adolescent and 
childhood sensibility and worked in a soporific medium, 
so the Victorian popular novelists accustomed the 
reading public to habits of diminished vigilance, pro- 
voked an uncritical response and discovered the appeals 
which have since made the fortunes of Sir James Barrie 
and Mr. A. A. Milne, the reputation of the Poet 
Laureate, and the success of most later nineteenth- 
century and twentieth-century bestsellers. The process 
by which reading habits were being changed was 
accelerated by the machinery mentioned earlier : the 
reader of the popular Press is now only fit for the 



READING CAPACITY 231 

Kipling kind of verse, the Book Club public is in- 
capable of any more arduous exercise in reading than 
Georgian poetry demands. As a consequence, the 
important poets of the twentieth century, like its 
novelists, are unknown to and hopelessly out of reach 
of the common reader ; and so are most of the artists 
of the past. The affirmation in Practical Criticism that 
it is through poetry alone that humanity may improve 
itself, seems as desperate as the blackest pessimist 
could wish, though it is there made the foundation for 
a pious hope. To be seriously interested in con- 
temporary developments of poetry is to be stigmatised 
as a highbrow, and in the face of such an environment, 
with discouragement of every kindj even the educated 
are scarcely willing or able to make the painful 
effort required in reading good poetry. 

The reading capacity of the general public, it must 
be concluded, has never been so low as at the present 
time. And what bearing this has on the individual 
sensibility will be discussed in a final chapter. It will 
be necessary, in spite of what has been said in the pre- 
vious chapter of even a very good novelists liability 
to write below his level, to illustrate generalisations 
by extracts, and the writer realises that this will re- 
quire some justification. Inevitably it is difficult if 
not unfair to demonstrate what is essentially a pervas- 
ive quality without exhaustive page-by-page comment 
of the kind that would require the reader to work 
through the novel with the writer, but apart from such 
considerations as that few of the novels under dis- 
cussion are subtle enough to merit such close scrutiny 
or are worth reading save for anthropological reasons, 
mere considerations of space and time insist on some 



232 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

more economical critical method. It is useless (though, 
as the established practice, it must be found generally 
convincing) to carry on a discussion in terms of such 
abstractions as ' plot/ * character/ ' setting, 1 * theme/ 
' action ' . . . which, it cannot be too often repeated, 
are only abstractions, convenient enough for the 
reviewer whose office is to recommend for the library 
list, but if taken as starting-points for criticism fatally 
misleading criticism based on a demand for f con- 
vincing ' character ' implies that a novel's value de- 
pends, on the lifelikeness of the personse (vide Part I. 
Chapter III) 127 ; if based on theme or subject-matter it 
leads to the fallacious conclusion that Wells is a greater 
or ' better ' novelist than Henry James or Jane Austen 
because he is apparently concerned with every side of 
human activity and they with nothing but what Henry 
James himself described as ' the human passion ' (a) ; 
or if on plot, that Wuthering Heights and Clarissa are as 
preposterous as the novels of Ethel M. Dell, and so on. 
These abstractions, however, are the only terms that 
tradition has provided for the critic, with a few more 
of the same kind that Mr. Lubbock in The Craft of 
Fiction and Mr. Forster in Aspects of the Novel have 
tried to put into circulation. But these terms un- 
fortunately are useless for purposes of valuation, 
though they have no doubt a certain limited signi- 
ficance in a discussion of technique, of the kind referred 
to in the introduction as academic, which asks of a 
novel that somehow impresses as a great one, How is 
it put together ? But to take Madame Bovary or Vanity 
Fair to pieces does not help : a discussion of the 
mechanics of successful novels (except for professional 

(a) Mr. Wtlls himself made this mistake. Vide Boon, Chapter IV. J 3. 



READING CAPACITY 233 

novelists) is pointless and profitless. The essential 
technique in an art that works by using words is the 
way in which words are used, and a method is only 
justified by the use that is made of it ; a bad novel is 
ultimately seen to fail not because of its method but 
owing to a fatal inferiority in the author's make-up. 
The technical perfection of the novels of Mr. George 
Moore does not prevent them from being faultlessly 
dead, and therefore as insignificant as the novels of Mr. 
Thornton Wilder, which they so suggestively resemble. 
Henry James's ' very obvious truth that the deepest 
quality of a work of art will always be the quality of 
the mind of the producer. . . . No good novel ever 
proceeded from a superficial mind ' is a much more 
likely critical basis. And though it may be interesting 
to the professional novelist or the amateur of letters to 
examine how different authors have solved their respec- 
tive problems, it must be borne in mind that technical 
dexterity and complexity are only means to an end and 
not in themselves meritorious or necessarily proofs of 
excellence : to extend somewhat the limits of this 
assertion, the complexities discussed earlier in this 
chapter do not make Virginia Woolf a greater novelist 
than Jane Austen in fact, Mrs. Woolf betrays more 
limitations than Miss Austen, or rather, more serious 
limitations, in so far as she is less critical, less spiritually 
fastidious. She belongs to an order which acquiesces 
more easily than Jane Austen's did. 128 The soundest 
method for the critic of the novel would be to reinforce 
a general impression by analysis of significant passages 
on the lines of Vernon Lee's The Handling of Words 
(though there the passages are chosen at random and 
the analysis is carried out too pedantically : it serves to 



234 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

show too that, like all critical methods, this requires 
sensibility as well as intelligence if it is to be used 
without disaster admirable critiques of Hardy and 
Henry James are followed by an examination of a 
passage from Richard Tea-and-Nay y which, we are told, 
exhibits the same virtues as the prose of Henry James !). 
Significant passages, because in these the novelist will 
be most intensely and so most perceptibly himself. 
There is no danger of doing injustice either way to bad 
fiction, because though good novelists can not in- 
frequently be caught nodding, I have never found a bad 
novelist write above or much below his own general 
level ; the bestseller's style is uniform and consistent. 



Ill 

LIVING AT THE NOVELISTS EXPENSE 

THE last chapter should have made clear what 
Parts I. and II. have served to document : that 
the general reading public of the twentieth century is 
no longer in touch with the best literature of its own day 
or of the past, and why. It is almost impossible for 
the novel which is an aesthetic experience to become 
popular, and, on the other hand, popular fiction cannot 
now contain, even unwittingly, the qualities which have 
made the work of Defoe, Dickens, and Smollett some- 
thing more than popular fiction. The public described 
in Part I. has discovered that fiction can serve a purpose 
quite other than that known to Lackington's age, but, 
as we have seen (p. 138), the bestseller of the eighteenth 
century does not lend itself to this purpose. The prin- 
cipal difference between the modern bestseller and the 
novel of Part II. Chapter III. is that before Lytton 
fiction does not invite uncritical reading, it keeps the 
reader at arm's length, and does not encourage him to 
project himself into the life he reads of by identifying 
himself with the hero or heroine (even if he had done 
so he would have got little satisfaction out of it). The 
technique of the novel of that time rendered such 
a process of self-dramatisation impossible : the 
eighteenth-century novelist reports (even in Richard- 
son's epistolary convention), that is to say the author 
is felt to be present, commenting on the action coolly, 
rationally, and often with a malicious pleasure in dis- 
appointing the reader's expectations, who is therefore 



286 



236 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

forced to distance the subject-matter. In the bestseller 
as we have known it since the author has poured his 
own day-dreams, hot and hot, into dramatic form, with- 
out bringing them to any such touchstone as the ' good 
sense, but not common-sense ' of a cultivated society : 
the author is himself or more usually herself identi- 
fied with the leading character, and the reader is invited 
to share the debauch (a). Once the possibilities of 
fiction as a compensation for personal disabilities and 
disappointments were discovered, hosts who would 
never otherwise have thought of writing produced 
novels for nothing is now commoner than the ability 
to write a novel : the points in which a novel differs 
from a poem (vide Part III. Chapter I.) make it so much 
easier to produce a deceptively good novel than a 
respectable poem, and technique of the kind that can 
be acquired by imitation goes much further towards the 
former than the latter. 129 The great bestseller, the 
bestseller, that is, whose writing goes straight to the 
heart of the public, unlike the literary novelist, is 
actuated by as authentic a passion as the artist, if it is 
judged by volume and temperature ; hence the degree 
of conviction that such authors carry to their readers, 
and it can be established that many of them (e.g. Gene 
Stratton Porter, Marie Corelli) did not in the first place 
write for money : they were impelled by another kind 
of need. Even the latest successor of Lytton is quite 
obviously doing something besides exploiting popular 
prejudice: any one who will examine Masterson: A Story 
of an English Gentleman will find in the hysterical climax 
and conclusion evidence of an overwhelming excitement, 
to be explained by the pervasive self-dramatisation. 

W Cf. P. 53- 



LIVING AT THE NOVELIST'S EXPENSE 237 

This generalisation about the change in the use 
the noVel was put to can be conveniently illustrated 
by the work of two women novelists, one bred in 
the eighteenth-century ethos, the other a Victorian 
Romantic. The advantage Jane Austen had over 
Charlotte Bronte appears at first sight to be one of 
personal development rather than of environment. 
Both in theory were liable to suffer from the same 
starvation of natural impulses, but there is no trace in 
the former's work of any such thwarting. She could 
find material to express her interests and preoccupa- 
tions in the life around her that she lived and knew, 
and the attitude of critical detachment that stamps 
everything she wrote as the product of a mature and 
balanced personality was a heritage from her en- 
vironment. Jane Eyre is on the contrary a fable of 
wish-fulfilment arising out of experience, in which 
figure such common indices as the child's burning 
sense of injustice, self-idealisation (parallel passaged 
are actually to be found in Marie Corelli), blinding and 
maiming of the beloved to enhance the value of the 
subject's devotion, self-abasement to the verge of 
death followed by dramatic salvation, recognition by 
enviable relatives, etc., all repeated with little variation 
in Villette. Most bestsellers go on writing the same 
novel because it is the only one they can produce, and 
each variant of it is successively popular because the 
appeal of the commoner day-dreams is inexhaustible 
they represent both for author and reader a favourite 
form of self-indulgence. 180 Considering what has been 
said above on the effect of a good eighteenth-century 
novel, it is not hard to understand Charlotte Brontfi's 
distaste for Jane Austen. It is one instance of a wide- 



238 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

spread popular feeling (vide p. 60), and is often the 
cause of critical bias. 

Wuthering Heights is not and never has been a 
popular novel (except in the sense that it is now 
an accepted classic and so on the shelves of the edu- 
cated) (a). Though there is evidence enough in the 
novel that Emily shared her sister *s disabilities, 
Wuthering Heights is not an instrument of wish- 
fulfilment. It proceeds from a stronger mifld, a 
sensibility that has triumphed over starvation and is not 
at its mercy. The cries of hunger and desire that ring 
through the book do not distress by a personal over- 
tone, the reader is not made to feel embarrassed by the 
proximity of an author's face. The emotion exhibited 
in Wuthering Heights, unlike the emotion exhibited in 
JaneEyre, has a frame round it; it is at least as poignant 
but it is controlled and directed, how deliberately 
the bare bones of the novel (admirably dissected by 
C.P.S. in The Structure of Wuthering Heights] show : 
Wuthering Heights is the best example in Victorian 
fiction of a total-response novel. Charlotte was not 
master enough of herself to submit her day-dreaming 
to the discipline of structural organisation. 

But it is the Charlottes Bronte, not the Emilies, who 
have provided the popular fiction of the last hundred 
years. It is necessary to ask what kind of minds, what 
is the quality of the sensibility, with which the general 
public is now in touch through its reading. These arc 
representative passages from bestsellers of classes C 
and D (/,). 

(a) The conventional classification of Wuthering Heights with The Bride 
of Lammermoor betrays the quality of the admiration professed for it. A 
more ucicnuate collocation for it would be Conrad's Heart of Darkness. 

(b) Via ^Tt I. Chapter III. 



LIVING AT THE NOVELIST'S EXPENSE 239 

(a) Was not here a man trained in the same school of environ- 
ment in which she had been trained a man with social posi- 
tion and culture such as she had been taught to consider as 
the prime essentials to congenial association? 

Did not her best judgment point to this young English 
nobleman, whose love she knew to be of the sort a civilized 
woman should crave, as the logical mate for such as herself? 

Could she love Clayton? She could see no reason why she 
could not. Jane Porter was not coldly calculating by nature, 
but training, environment, and heredity had all combined to 
teach her to reason even in matters of the heart. 

That she had been carried off her feet by the strength of 
the young giant when his great arms were about her in the 
distant African forest, and again to-day, in the Wisconsin 
woods, seemed to her only attributable to a temporary mental 
reversion to type on her part to the psychological appeal of 
the primeval man to the primeval woman in her nature. . . . 

Again she glanced at Clayton. He was very handsome 
and every inch a gentleman. She should be very proud of 
such a husband. 

And then he spoke a minute sooner or a minute later 
might have made all the difference in the world to three lives 
but chance stepped in and pointed out to Clayton the 
psychological moment (a). 

(b) His father, the Rector of High Stanton, was a thoughtful, 
literary man, with what used to be called * high ideals ' it is 
an old-fashioned phrase now and a broad humanitarianism. 
But he was unpopular in his living because he had a touch of 
mysticism which made him an enigma to the small shop- 
keepers and middle-class gentry of the little country town. 
They mistook his reserved nature, absent-mindedness and 
intellectual culture for pride. The truth is that the man was 
far above the level of the people among whom he lived, and 
it was a real torture to him to be impelled day by day and year 
by year to bring himself down to their small ideals, to limit 
his vision to the narrow outlook of his parish. . . . They 
[the Rector and his son] discussed the humour of Moliere, 

(a) Tartan of the dpcs t Edgar Rice Burroughs. 



FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

and the wisdom of Dr. Johnson, and the characteristics of 
other great masters, and Francis never lost his reverence for 
the wise scholarship, the fine taste, and the prodigious memory 
of his father. . . . [Francis is at Oxford.] Another sur- 
prise was given when it became known that Luttrell was 
the author of a number of serious little studies in the magazine 
which revealed a very intimate and rather mystical under- 
standing of nature. . . . [He becomes a journalist] I think 
few men were ever so quickly inoculated with the subtle 
poison of Fleet Street as young Frank Luttrell. To a man of 
his training and temperament Fleet Street was a place of 
torture. A man who has read poetry and learnt it by heart 
cannot be content with writing paragraphs about cats at the 
Crystal Palace and murder in Whitechapel and fat boys at 
Peckham, Other men of education and ideals would not 
have suffered so acutely. With stronger fibre they would 
have resisted more manfully, but Frank was so sensitive that 
every nerve in him quivered at the least touch (a). 

And it will be useful to quote also a passage from a 
novelist who is not popular : 

(c) This clergyman was not a popular man. He had the dis- 
tinction of being disliked by the people; he was also avoided 
by Mr. Turnbull and his other well-to-do neighbours, and 
was treated with extreme rudeness by the farmers. He lived 
in a house as sombre and silent as the grave. He possessed a 
housekeeper who did two things : she drank brandy and she 
told every one about the wickedness of her master. 

There were great elm trees round the house, so that in 
summer only a little corner of the roof could be seen. The 
place was always in the shade and always cold. It was one of 
those old church houses through which doubts and strange 
torments have crept and have stung men for generations, 
and where nameless fevers lie in wait for the little children. 
The place was built with the idea of driving men to despair 
or to God. Inside the house you felt the whole weight cover 
you. Outside, the trees, overfed with damp leaf-mould, 
chilled to the bone. 

(a) TAtf Street of Adventure > Philip Gibbs. 



LIVING AT THE NOVELIST'S EXPENSE 241 

. . . Mr. Neville, the vicar, was within, reading; his 
head was bent a little over his book. Had an artist seen him, 
an artist like William Blake, he would have thought at once 
of that romantic prophet, Amos the herdsman. The face 
was more strong than clever ; it had indeed none of those 
hard, ugly lines, those examination lines, that mark the 
educated of the world. His beard and hair were grey, 
and his heart, could it have been seen, was greyer still; 
and no wonder, for he had found out what human unkind- 
ness was. 

He had, unluckily for himself, broken down the illusions 
that the healing habit of custom wraps around men, and 
especially around the clergy. To tear off this vesture, to 
arrive at nakedness, was to open, perhaps, a way for heavenly 
voices, but certainly a way for the little taunts and gibes of 
the world, the flesh and the devil. . . . 

Henry Neville had around him always the hatred of nature 
and of man. Nature scorned him because he was helpless to 
dig and to weed and to plant, and because he was always 
catching cold. He had drawn to himself the malice of man 
because he had tried and failed to defend the victim against 
the exploiter. All kinds of difficulties and worries lay about 
his path like nettles and stung him whenever he moved. 
Naturally his health was not benefited by this treatment, and 
he was developing a tendency to cough in the mornings. By 
reason of all this unkindness Mr. Neville's appearance was 
certainly very different from the Rev. Hector Turnbull's, 
and Mr. Neville's smile was not in the least like the smile 
with which Mr. Tasker greeted his black sow at five o'clock 
in the morning. There was nothing so different in the world 
as the smiles of these men. . . . 

When he first came down into the country he, tried very 
hard to battle with the place} he tried to cut his own grass, 
he tried to make his own hay, but he did not succeed any 
better than Henry Turnbull succeeded with the fir tree. 
And so he held up his hands and surrendered to the enemy 
and learned to admire in his prison the beauty of long grass. 
His polite neighbours saw the long grass, or tried to open the 
heavy gate, and drove quickly away without calling, poverty 



242 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

in England being regarded as something more vile than the 
plague. 

It was part of Mr. Neville's nature never to retaliate: 
when the nettle overgrew his garden he let it grow, when his 
housekeeper robbed him he let her do it, and when this woman 
told tales in the village about his immorality he never answered 
them. He knew quite well the kind of men who escape 
scandal, and he was sure he could never be like them. The 
people of the village were his warders, the vicarage was his 
gaol; and to be delivered therefrom, an angel, the dark one, 
mast come to unlock the gate (a). 

(a) comes from a bestseller which both as a novel 
and a film swept England and the United States, 
(b) from a highly successful novel by the author who 
was taken (Part I. Chapter III.) as typical of class C 
(the novelists to whom the general public go for help 
and advice). Both exhibit a crude, ill-furnished mind 
trying to interpret the workings of a personality 
stated but not shown to be cultivated and complex 
notice the pitiful attempt at analysis with a set of terms 
gleaned from some such superficial source as the 
newspaper and often misapplied. In (a) the author's 
aim is merely to put across a plausible situation of the 
kind adapted to the screen (vide p. 53), in (b) there is 
a genuine effort to write on a subtler plane than that 
on which the author lives * literary ' in the first line 
means well-read (seen from below), and note the 
crude use of counters like * intellectual,' * ideals,' 
' education,' * mysticism/ the helpless gestures made 
in the formulas * and other great masters,' * poetry,' 
* rather mystical understanding of nature,' ' intellectual 
culture,' also such bad shots as the assumption that 
straightforward minor reporting would be ' torture ' to 

(a) Mr. Tashrs Gods, T. F. Powys. 



LIVING AT THE NOVELIST'S EXPENSE 243 

a man of education and ideals ' (whereas it would 
naturally be the more ambitious varieties of journalism, 
such as those in which the author has specialised, that 
he would find intolerable). Apart from the obvious 
inadequacy of the authors to handle the situations they 
have postulated there is this worth remarking : both 
are able to depend on stock responses which enable 
them by a few clumsy strokes to evoke a composite 
picture that is already stowed away in their readers' 
minds. The character of the man who is unsuccessful 
because he is so sensitive or so educated is well known 
to the C public (compare the hero of If Winter Comes\ 
so that the collocation of the words * absent-minded/ 
' literary,' ' mysticism,' ' vision,' and ' ideals ' suffices 
to call up a complete if very hazy story : they are 
familiar with the details of such a story, having met it 
on the screen and in their reading nearly all their lives, 
and are satisfied to believe that the novelist has created 
what he has in fact merely tricked them into remember- 
ing. All this is betrayed by the consistent use of 
cliches 131 (stock phrases to evoke stock responses (aj) 
nothing is freshly realised, and of general terms 
nothing is concrete and immediate. Contrast (a) and 
(b) with (c), which, though from an unsuccessful first 
novel in which the author is only feeling his way 
towards the stylisation that later produced a triumph 
of economy in Mr. Westoris Good Wine (and has made 
it impossible to quote from), exhibits a rare sensi- 
bility reproducing with exquisite fidelity and sureness 
a highly personal mode of feeling. Is it not possible to 
say bluntly that (c) is ' better ' than (b) or (a) in so far 

(a) The reader should have in mind throughout this chapter the account 
of stock responses in Practical Criticism, Part III. Chap. v. 



244 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

as by way of (c) the reader is in touch with a mind 
capable of a greater degree of honesty in dealing with 
experience and a sensibility infinitely more alive to it ? 
In the writer's opinion it is even possible to go a 
step further and assert that (a) and (b) had better not 
be read at all, though in Part I. Chapter HI. a case was 
made out for the C novelist on the ground that com- 
munications from one stratum to another must be kept 
open ; after investigating novels of the C and D. type, 
however, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that com- 
munication at that level had better not be attempted (a). 
It is important to realise that not only the authors of 
(a) and (b) but nearly all popular novelists are now 
trying to dramatise problems of feeling and sentiment 
far too complex for their handling, and in an idiom 
which inevitably vulgarises whatever it has to convey. 
They are thus not so much what is often described as 
1 falsifying life ' as interfering with the reader's spon- 
taneities ; the public of (a) and (b), which is the bulk 
of the reading public, has no means of knowing what 
it really thinks and feels : between the mind which has 
been fed on films, magazines, newspapers, and best- 
sellers, and a first-hand judgment or prompting, comes 
the picture of how to think, feel, or behave, derived 
from these sources 132 a picture ineluctable because 
(vide Part I. Chapter III.) the illusion conveyed by 
these agents is that of a more sympathetic and dramatic 
life and so is peculiarly compelling, and because so 
often repeated in slightly varying forms as to have 
become part of the emotional furniture. And the best- 

(a) A parallel example may enforce the point : some one declared his 
intention of * doing the work of the Criterion at the level of John o London V 
to which the answer is that John o London s does it already in the only way 
it can be done at that level. 



LIV.ING AT THE NOVELIST'S EXPENSE 245 

sellers of fiction, as of poetry, have commonly been 
persohs convinced of their special fitness to dictate the 
correct emotional behaviour ; to the uncritical they are 
fatally persuasive. Attitudes which need very little 
demonstration to prove socially undesirable have been 
noticed previously as being created and fixed by post- 
war bestsellers, and attitudes equally pernicious to indi- 
vidual happiness are conveyed by both Victorian and 
twentieth-century fiction e.g. the attitudes formed 
round the words ' noble ' and ' pure,' and the idea of 
self-sacrifice for its own sake which, entering literature 
by way of the more popular Victorian poets, was 
promptly taken over by the novelists and by them incor- 
porated into the popular ideology. 133 The section of 
Ulysses which records subjectively a few hours in the 
life of Gerty MacDowell is an invaluable reference at 
this point : for Gerty MacDowell every situation has a 
prescribed attitude provided by memories of slightly 
similar situations in cheap fiction, she thinks in terms 
of cliches drawn from the same source, and is com- 
pletely out of touch with reality. Such a life is not only 
crude, impoverished, and narrow, it is dangerous. And 
it is typical of the level at which the emotional life of 
the generality is now conducted. 134 How much less 
efficiently equipped for the business of living such a 
society is than Bunyan's contemporaries or Mr. Sturt's 
and Mr. Torr's countrymen, for whom traditional wis- 
dom was available and first-hand experience abundantly 
provided, must be left to the reader to judge. 

Another point : the novels from which (a) and (b) 
are drawn obviously proceed from minds of no greater 
calibre and sensibilities as crude and undeveloped as 
those of the lowest level of reading public. Now Defoe 



246 FICTION AND THE READING PUBjLIC 

was intellectually on top of his age ; with a finger in 
every interest and a brain spilling over with literary 
projects, he was not only in touch with the best ideas of 
his time, as Arnold would say, but in advance of 
them (a). Even Dickens, to take a leap to the begin- 
ning of another phase of popular fiction, was a great deal 
more than a member of his own public. It is noticeable 
how composed and firmly planted were the eighteenth- 
century novelists from Fielding to Maria Edgeworth, 
on what an unassailable basis of wide and controlled 
experience their keen discrimination rests. If we postu- 
late a scale (in which (a) would rank at one end and (c) 
at the other) for determining the point between com- 
plete superficiality and complete seriousness that a 
novel occupies, we may assert that the eighteenth- 
century novelists exhibit a degree of seriousness in 
dealing with emotional issues which no popular novelist 
afterwards attains. The author of (b), a favourable 
specimen of the superior kind of bestseller (vide 
pp. 71-3), is evidently a less adequate medium for 
introducing the public to life and art than these. Sir 
Philip Gibbs is not merely a favourable specimen of the 
bestseller, he is working at the highest level of serious- 
ness known to his readers ; it is painful to reflect how 
much below the level at which it is possible to live 
(*.*. at which the best poetry functions), how much 
below the level at which even the ordinarily cultivated 
person lives, how much further from literature than 
Dickens or even Lytton, this is. 

I should like to make some further distinctions 
between the levels at which the various publics of the 
twentieth century are supplied with fiction. These 

(a) Vide his Essay on Projects and The Review. 



LIVING AT THE NOVELIST'S EXPENSE 247 

three extracts are from representative low-, middle-, 
and Righbrow bestsellers ; they were chosen because 
in them the novelists are explicitly concerned with 
criticism of life, not as usual indirectly by the com- 
munication of experience through dramatic symbols, 
but almost without disguise in their own persons : 

(d) Sorreli philosophised. . . . When the grey chalk-hills 
showed, Sorreli would think of boundaries and of the finality 
of .a man's experiences. Death, oblivion, extinction per- 
haps a melting into soft greyness. And all man's passionate 
little tricks to escape it, his myths, his gods and his immor- 
talities, his theosophies, and spiritisms. A yearning, a chilli- 
ness after life's full meal. The soft dusk, the obliterating 
darkness, the unknown and the unknowable. 

* Consciousness is less,' he thought, 4 than the planks of a 
boat between you and the deep waters. Some day you will 
sink, disappear, be forgotten. You will be less than some 
tree that once grew here.' 

' Accept. Do your job. Then, be ready to close your 
eyes and sleep.' 

He was a pragmatist. The satisfaction of life lay in accom- 
plishment. He was content to gaze at the unknown as he 
looked at the distant chalk-hills, and he felt no urge to climb 
them. The whole world of the senses might be an illusion, 
but man's business was to behave as though it were real. The 
job mattered, the thing you had set out to accomplish, and 
not for yourself alone. Fighting mattered, striving, endur- 
ing, loving the few, disdaining the many. When struggle 
ceases men cease to be men. 

Besides, who would tell where life ended? Death might 
be the opening of a door,< especially to those who climbed to 
it after a life of stubborn, effort. And without effort there 
might be no door? Or was death like a sieve . . .? (a) 

(e) Better not think that out. Some feelings made less trouble 
if unexamined. . . . No. You couldn't number even the 
heads. Each head only existed for a second or two. This 

(a) Warwick Deeping, Sorreli and Son. 



248 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

was the homogeneous spate of flesh, flowing for thousands of 
years, for which Christ died. But it didn't know it. Didn't 
even know now that ships and the sea were under its myriad 
feet, the interminable and horrific caterpillar. Didn't seem 
to know anything. The hairs numbered of that tide of 
heads? Poor little man on a cross ! . . . None of the books 
had ever proved whether it all mattered or whether it did 
not. Whether everything was happening so because it had 
to, or whether it was all worse than shove-ha'penny. Cosmic 
shove-ha'penny? . . . There must be something inherent 
in this chaos which informed it. Perhaps in the beginning it 
got the word, and had remembered it, without knowing what 
it meant. These people were all right. They would work 
out what had to be done, in spite of all the Perriams, and 
without knowing what they were doing. 

That thought, outside the fruiterer's, gave him the freedom 
to admire a favourite shop. Better than any Bond Street 
jeweller's, that place. The greengrocer trafficked with the 
raw material of the poet. Sonnets and lyrics by the pound. 
These colours would put it across Helen's artist pals at 
Hampstead. 

. . . Reason ! No more reason in it than there ^as in the 
hot gas which congealed to a mud ball, on which grew the 
truth, and crosses and nails for those who dared to mention 
it. What a joke ; and nobody to get a laugh out of it ! (a) 

(f) So Mrs. Moore had all she wished; she escaped the trial, 
the marriage, and the hot weather; she would return to 
England in comfort and distinction, and see her other chil- 
dren. At her son's suggestion, and by her own desire, she 
departed. But she accepted her good luck without enthusi- 
asm. She had come to that state where the horror of .the 
universe and its smallness are both visible at the same time . 
the twilight of the double vision in which so many elderly 
people are involved. If this world is not to our taste, well, 
at all events there is Heaven, Hell, Annihilation one or 
other of those large things, that huge scenic background of 
stars, fires, blue or black air. All heroic endeavour, and all 

(a) Gallons Reach, H. M. Tomlinson. 



LIVING AT THE NOVELIST'S EXPENSE 249 

that is known as art, assumes that there is such a background, 
just as all practical endeavour, when the world is to our taste, 
assumes that the world is all. But in the twilight of the 
double vision, a spiritual muddledom is set up for which no 
high-sounding words can be found ; we can neither act nor 
refrain from action, we can neither ignore nor respect Infinity. 
Mrs. Moore had always inclined to resignation. As soon as 
she landed in India it seemed to her good, and when she saw 
the water flowing through the mosque-tank, or the Ganges, 
or the moon, caught in the shawl of night with all the other 
stars*, it seemed a beautiful goal and an easy one. To be one 
with the universe! So dignified and simple. But there was 
always some little duty to be performed first, some new card 
to be turned up from the diminishing pack and placed, and 
while she was pottering about, the Marabar struck its 
gong. 

What had spoken to her in that scoured-out cavity of the 
granite? What dwelt in the first of the caves? Something 
very old and very small. Before time, it was before space 
also. Something snub-nosed, incapable of generosity the 
undying worm itself. Since hearing its voice, she had not 
entertained one large thought, she was actually envious of 
Adela. All this fuss over a frightened girl ! Nothing had 
happened, ' and if it had,' she found herself thinking with the 
cynicism of a withered priestess, * if it had, there are worse 
evils than love.' The unspeakable attempt presented itself 
to her as love : in a cave, in a church Bourn, it amounts to 
the same. Visions are supposed to entail profundity, but 
Wait till you get one, dear reader ! The abyss also may be 
petty, the serpent of eternity made of maggots (a). 

(e) is a series of extracts from the first half of a novel, 
and this may be alleged unfair. But the novel consists 
of the running comments of one man on his various 
successive experiences : his thoughts, ideas, and com- 
ments are the book, they are meant to be not criticised 
but accepted by the reader, for he is frankly only a 

(a) Passage to India, E. M. Forster. 



250 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

stalking-horse for the author (' She was glad Jimmy 
was different. He was not an intellectual ' (p. 40).) 
It is only fair to remark in passing that this is at least 
an honest way to write a novel 135 ; contrast Point 
Counter Point or Antic Hay y where the author protects 
himself by dramatising every possible attitude in order 
to avoid the necessity of taking up a position and stand- 
ing by it. And there is nothing more rigorous in the 
organisation of Gallions Reach than is implied in the 
word succession, so that we are entitled to sample the 
quality of the author's mind by judicious skimming. 
To the present writer the two equally evident features 
of this train of thoughts are their incurable second- 
rateness ( c Poor little man on a cross ! . . . What a 
joke ; and nobody to get a laugh out of it ! ... The 
greengrocer trafficked with the raw material of the 
poet ') and their confident optimism (' These people 
were all right. They would work out what had to be 
done, and without knowing what they were doing '). 
The popularity of Gallions Reach rested on these two 
characteristics : its * mysticism ' (' I tell you there are 
other worlds ' (p. 4). * Yes, the blessed ghosts we 
know govern us ' (p. 293)) and its * thought,' which 
was found peculiarly congenial by the middlebrow 
public. Now if the attitude of the authors of (d) and 
(e) are compared they will be found almost identical. 
Both toy with possibilities with an engaging appear- 
ance of large-mindedness that in fact only covers their 
incapacity to come to grips with any real problem 
(' Better not think that out. Some feelings made less 
trouble if unexamined ') both are only pretending to 
be disturbed, to doubt, they are perfectly sure at heart 
that everything is really all right and the world a jolly 



LIV.ING AT THE NOVELIST'S EXPENSE 251 

place (' He was a pragmatist,' etc, ' There must be 
something inherent in this chaos which informed it. 
These people were all right '). And so after our excur- 
sion into profundity we come back to the comfortable 
axioms of I'homme moyen sensuel. Although (d) is low- 
brow, that is, a common bestseller, and (e) middle- 
brow, a novel much admired by the educated, to the 
reader of (f) there is little to choose between them 
(cf. p. 79). It is naturally impossible to apprehend 
the entire force and significance of (f) out of its context, 
without having in mind all that has preceded it, but it 
serves to show up the superficiality of (d) and (e) ; no 
one who reads at the level of (f) is likely to read also 
at the level of (d) or (e). The attitude of the author of 
(f) is more inclusive than that of the authors of (d) 
and (e), the considerations with which they trifle have 
played a formative part in his emotional make-up, his 
attitude is not to be overthrown by criticism. A sensi- 
tive reader apprehends this as much from the tone as 
the sense of these passages : (d) is the voice of a school- 
master an empty solemnity, it is concerned merely to 
provide what is expected of it ; (e), with its alternate 
queries and exclamation-marks, betrays that the author 
maintains his altitude as philosopher in the crow's-nest 
with the utmost difficulty, just as the idiom betrays the 
inability to discuss with seriousness ; (f) is the tone of 
the artist who has experienced the spiritual state he is 
concerned to communicate, not guessed at it. The 
status of a novelist, his right, that is, to manipulate our 
minds and impinge upon our sensibilities, is most 
easily recognised by the tone of his writing. And that 
is liable to be affected by the conventions of his age and 
public. When the social code will not admit an 



252 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

important part of experience the right to be men- 
tioned e.g. in the Victorian era there was a tacit con- 
vention that what was discussed in the smoking-room 
did not exist for the drawing-room there is bound 
to be an uneasiness in the relation between author 
and reader. 136 Hence there is something wrong with 
the tone of almost all the Victorian male novelists. 
Thackeray's and Trollope's cynicism is one instance ; 
it is meant to pass as realistic (the clear-eyed, unsenti- 
mental man-of-the-world, etc.), but it is, of course, the 
smoking-room sentimentality which is an integral part 
of the smoking-room attitude. 

(g) But it was October before Lord Lufton was made a happy 
man ; that is, if the fruition of his happiness was a greater 
joy than the anticipation of it. I will not say that the happi- 
ness of marriage is like the Dead Sea fruit an apple which, 
when eaten, turns to bitter ashes in the mouth. Such pre- 
tended sarcasm would be very false. Nevertheless, is it not 
the fact that the sweetest morsel of love's feast has been eaten, 
that the freshest, fairest blush of the flower has been snatched 
and has passed away, when the ceremony at the altar has been 
performed, and legal possession has been given? There is an 
aroma of love, an indefinable delicacy of flavour, which 
escapes and is gone before the church portal is left, vanishing 
with the maiden name, and incompatible with the solid com- 
fort appertaining to the rank of wife. To love one's own 
spouse, and to be loved by her, is the ordinary lot of man, and 
is a duty exacted under penalties. But to be allowed to love 
youth and beauty that is not one's own to know that one 
is loved by a soft being who still hangs cowering from the 
eye of the world as though her love were all but illicit can 
it be that a man is made happy when a state of anticipation 
such as this is brought to a close? No; when the husband 
walks back from the altar, he has already swallowed the 
choicest dainties of his banquet. The beef and pudding of 
married life are then in store for himj or perhaps only the 



LIVING AT THE NOVELIST'S EXPENSE 253 

bread and cheese. Let him take care lest hardly a crust 
remain or perhaps not a crust (a). 

A few lines from a topical novel of the seventeenth 
century will illustrate what is meant : 

(h) . He had married a virtuous lady, and of good quality. 
But her relation to him (it may be feared) made her very 
disagreeable : for a man of his humour and estate can no 
more be satisfied with one woman, than with one dish of 
meats and to say truth, it is something unmodish (b). 

Trollope's tone is felt to be strained and uncon- 
vincing, though he has Thackeray behind him : there 
is none of the vitality of the second passage, the move- 
ment of (g) is suspiciously pompous, while that of (h) 
is lithe and assured. Aphra Behn's gaiety is something 
.Trollope could not afford ; no Victorian novelist has 
her aplomb. The smoking-room attitude precludes 
candour in the most important relations, so that the 
novelist's mode of living cannot be communicated, he 
must adopt a false personality and the falsetto voice 
that goes with it. The smile that the suitable reader 
of (f) is provoked into giving at (g) destroys it. In the 
light of (g) consider the betraying prologue and vale- 
diction of Vanity Fair : on reading them no one can be 
in doubt about the degree of seriousness he is likely to 
meet with in the intervening pages. But Aphra Behn's 
light touch was something she shared with the 
Augustan age, it is the poise of a whole society (vide 
Part II. Chapter III.) which measured writing by 
standards that Trollope could not have understood : 
' It is written with the Spirit of one who has seen the 
World enough to undervalue it with good Breeding 

(a) Framley Parsonage, Anthony Trollope. 

(b) The Court of the King of Bantam, Aphra Behn. 



254 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

. . , and the whole Air of the Book, as to the Lan- 
guage, the Sentiments, and the Reasonings, shfews it 
was written by one whose Virtue sits easy about him, 
and to whom Vice is thoroughly contemptible/ To 
say that there is something wrong with the tone is to 
make a less superficial criticism than might be sup- 
posed, for the relation between popular novelist and 
reader is inevitably decided by the current social rela- 
tion. A false note here is the sign of a serious limita- 
tion in the social life of the time. A sentence in 
Trollope's Autobiography explains everything: Miss 
Brought ton's novels, he wrote, * are not sweet-savoured 
as are those by Miss Thackeray, and are, therefore, less 
true to nature.' This is a result of that narrowing down 
noticed earlier as the chief effect of the circulating 
library on fiction. [Thackeray's shocked disgust at 
the great eighteenth-century writers (vide his English 
Humourists) is another.] Similarly a coarsening of tone 
(coarsening not in morals but in mceurs\ such as is 
perceptible between The Way of All Flesh and Death of 
a Hero, means a loss on the part of the community at 
large of something of inestimable value, since fineness 
of living depends, as we are social animals, very largely 
on the company we keep and the nature of our inter- 
course with our fellows. 

Such assets as environment can furnish are not part 
of the post-war novelist's endowment. Addison was 
neither particularly sensitive nor unusually intelligent, 
he had only the slenderest of personal talents, and it 
must be a cause of bitter envy to twentieth-century 
novelists when they reflect that not the most in- 
telligent and sensitive of them could achieve, like 
Addison, a work which should at once reflect the finest 



LIVING AT THE NOVELIST'S EXPENSE 255 

awareness of their age and yet appeal to the whole 
public* from ' the circumference of wit ' to the barely 
literate. Even if the modern set out to defy the 
stratification which has been demarcated and resolve 
to address the entire community, the consciousness that 
the community he was addressing consisted of different 
reading publics at varying levels would rob him of the 
complete confidence necessary to a work of art. The 
novelist who (vide note 35) stated that he ' writes to 
entertain various publics in turn ' is a victim of the 
literary conditions of his age ; no wonder if his efforts 
lack conviction. 

One of the first difficulties the twentieth-century 
novelist encounters is the language-problem : to 
communicate with the general reading public it is 
necessary to use their language (the Tatler was written 
* in an air of common speech '). But it is now a 
language (vide Part III. Chapter I.) which has no 
artistic possibilities. The Elizabethan dramatist (or 
pamphleteer), we have seen, was able to make use of 
a rich speech idiom ; with a spoken language that 
abounded in metaphors, allusions, and proverbs, the 
idiom of a people that acquired its resources of thinking 
and feeling from living conversation and not cheap 
printed matter, he could draw on the resources of the 
common people's speech without ceasing to be a great 
artist. The idiom that the general public of the 
twentieth century possesses is not merely crude and 
puerile ; it is made up of phrases and cliches that 
imply fixed, or rather stereotyped, habits of thinking 
and feeling at second-hand taken over from the 
journalist. That portion of the vocabulary of the 
ordinary man which is not concerned with material 



256 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

needs is derived from such sources as those discussed 
in Part II. Chapter IV. 2. The set of ideas, for 
example, attached to the popular use of the words 
' vision 9 and ' ideals ' (as in (b)), * inspiration, 1 
' personality,' * creative/ ' human,' ' urge ' (as in 
advertisements and bestsellers), is destructive of them 
for purposes of serious usage. Just as the vocabulary 
of ' uplift ' and ' ideals ' is now indissolubly associated 
with the order of feeling exhibited in the novels of 
Gene Stratton Porter and Gilbert Frankau, 137 so the 
vocabulary of ' vision ' and ' inspiration ' is the 
peculiar property of journalism and salesmanship. 138 
The generalisations on Life, Love, Marriage, Sex, 
Woman, 139 etc., which fill the popular novel, the 
magazine, and the magazine pages of the popular Press, 
provide film captions and headlines, and so form the 
popular mind, have set up a further barrier between a 
serious novelist and the reading public. To be under- 
stood by the majority he would have to employ the 
cliches in which they are accustomed to think and feel, 
or rather, to having their thinking and feeling done for 
them. 140 The peculiar property of a good novel, as 
has already been observed, is the series of shocks it 
gives to the reader's preconceptions preconceptions, 
usually unconscious, of how people behave and why, 
what is admirable and what reprehensible ; it provides 
a configuration of special instances which serve as a 
test for our mental habits and show us the necessity 
for revising them. George Eliot, characteristically, 
seems to have been the first novelist to be conscious 
of this most important function of the novel ; her 
comment on the crisis of The Mill on the Floss is 
extended into a general insistence that ' we have no 



LIV.ING AT THE NOVELIST'S EXPENSE 257 

master-key that will fit all cases . . . moral judgments 
must Vemain false and hollow, unless they are checked 
and enlightened by a perpetual reference to the special 
circumstances that mark the individual lot.' 141 The 
ordinary reader is now unable to brace himself to bear 
the impact of a serious novel (vide p. 62 and p. 74), a 
novel, that is, in which words are used with fresh 
meanings and for ends with which he is unfamiliar. 
And on the other hand, a twentieth-century novelist 
if he is intelligent and sensitive has necessarily to waste 
some of his energy in avoiding the stock responses, 
the popular associations of the current idiom, or at 
least to sacrifice the simplicity and directness which 
was observed (vide p. 125) to characterise Fielding's 
novels. 

It is painful to compare the staple of eighteenth- 
century popular fiction and that exhibited by twentieth- 
century writers. But it is essential to see what has 
happened. 

(i) I cast myself at her feet. Begone, Mr. Lovelace, said 
she, with a rejecting motion, her fan in her hand; for your 
own sake leave me ! My soul is above thee, man ! with both 
her hands pushing me from her ! Urge me not to tell thee, 
how sincerely I think my soul above thee! Thou hast in 
mine, a proud, a too proud heart, to contend with ! Leave 
me, and leave me for ever! Thou hast a proud heart to 
contend with ! 

And, as I hope to live, my nose tingled, as I once, when a 
boy, remember it did (and indeed once more very lately) just 
before some tears came into my eyes; and I durst hardly 
tn:st my face in view of hers. 

What have I done to deserve this impatient exclama- 
tion? 

O Mr. Lovelace, we have been long enough together, 



258 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

to be tired of each other's humours and ways; ways and 
humours so different, that perhaps you ought to disli&e me, 
as much as I do you. I think, I think, that I cannot 
make an answerable return to the value you profess for 
me. My temper is utterly ruined. You have given me 
an ill opinion of all mankind; of yourself in particular: 
and withal so bad a one of myself, that I shall never be 
able to look up, having utterly and for ever lost all that self- 
complacency, and conscious pride, which are so necessary to 
carry a woman through this life with tolerable satisfaction 
to herself. 

... I arose, and re-urged her for the day. 

My day, sir, said she, is never. Be not surprised. A 
person of politeness judging between us, would not be sur- 
prised that I say so. But indeed, Mr. Lovelace (and wept 
through impatience) you either know not how to treat with 
a mind of the least degree of delicacy, notwithstanding your 
birth and education, or you are an ingrateful man; and (after 
a pause) a worse than ingrateful one. But I will retire. I 
will see you again tomorrow. I cannot before. I think I 
hate you You may look Indeed I think I hate you. And 
if, upon a re-examination of my own heart, I find I do, I 
would not for the world that matters should go on farther 
between us (a). 

(j) Love, the capacity for which she had so long denied, had 
become a force that, predominating everything, held her 
irresistibly. The accumulated affection that, for want of an 
outlet, had been stemmed within her, had burst all restraint, 
and the love that she gave to the man to whom she had 
surrendered her proud heart was immeasurable a love of 
infinite tenderness and complete unselfishness, a love that 
made her strangely humble. . . . Her surrender had been 
no common one. The feminine weakness that she had 
despised and fought against had triumphed over her un- 
expectedly with humiliating thoroughness. Sex had super- 
vened to overthrow all her preconceived notions. The 
womanly instincts that under Aubrey's training had been 

(a) Richardson, Clarissa. 



LIVING AT THE NOVELIST'S EXPENSE 259 

suppressed and undeveloped had, in contact with the Sheik's 
vivid masculinity and compelling personality, risen to the 
surface with startling completeness (a). 

(k) For to-night could Erica but have known it both heredi- 
ties, her father's legacy of priggishness, of self-certainty, of 
religion beyond the law, and her mother's legacy (also beyond 
the law) of waywardness and passion and reckless self- 
abandonment to desire, were conspiring, even more surely 
than circumstances had conspired, against conscience and 
against self-knowledge and against all those inhibitions which 
are the soul's safeguard from Sin (t). 

Richardson, an uneducated printer, can express 
himself with force and dignity yet quite simply. The 
Sheik and Life and Erica will be found to consist 
almost wholly of such passages as (j) and (k), varied 
with dialogue of which specimens have been quoted 
earlier (vide Part I. Chapter III. and Part II. Chapter 
IV.). They appear to proceed from writers who 
attach no particular meaning to the language they use, 
they are at the mercy of words. Consequently most 
of what they write is nonsense. But it must convey 
something to its readers, for both (j) and (k) come from 
bestsellers. The careful reader will notice that these 
passages aim at psychological analysis, and it must be 
that at a certain level they impress as such. To the 
magazine and newspaper reader they would carry con- 
viction and no doubt a vague meaning, because they 
employ words he has seen in similar connections in 
periodicals. The jargon of popular psychology and 
popular science is now at the writer's disposal; it 
saves him the trouble of dramatising a situation or 
visualising a scene, and apparently satisfies or flatters 

(a) E. M. Hull, The Sheik. 

(b) Gilbert Frankau, Life and Erica. 



a6b FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

his readers. A few extreme examples are worth 
quoting : ' 

At his words, the inhibitions went from her. 

. . . the ultimate inhibitions snapped in her brain. . . . 

The nurse, who had intuition but no psychology. . . . 

and the novels of Gilbert Frankau are so thickly 
studded with mention of inhibitions and the sub- 
conscious that it is hardly possible to find a page with- 
out one or both. 

As an illustration of the disabilities of the popular 
idiom I shall have to quote further passages from the 
novels (e) and (f) : 

(1) * Dear old Colet. There he goes. But I'll tell him again. 
I want to give the moths and rust a chance to corrupt some- 
thing that belongs to me. I'll moth 'em, if they come 
near it.' 

4 I don't feel that way about it. But look here. If you 
do lift the lid off a hoard, watch me do the Highland fling 
with the accordant triumphant noises.' 

* I know. ^You are like that. But it's not the right spirit. 
It's simply devilish. It's only your damned playful sympathy. 
You'd have been a nice Christian all complete with another 
touch of dreary misfortune. Colet, it makes me doubt you. 
You'll come to no good end. You really won't. I'm in- 
clined to think that you might even fold your hands like a 
pale martyr, or a skinned rabbit, some day, and let the other 
fellow have the girl. It's wicked, you know. It's unfair 
to the poor darling. Don't you ever love your neighbour as 
yourself, unless you want him to know what a fool you 
are. . . .' 

He waited a minute, and then picked up his gun again. 

* I wouldn't have the nerve to look at the world unless I 
were sure of a cushioned corner in it. It would be a terror 
of a hole. There's no sense in it unless we put it there, so 
don't you try to find it. Just think of humanity messing up 



LIVING AT THE NOVELIST'S EXPENSE 261 

its planet with progress shoving things about, piling 'em 
up, and especially getting cock-eyed with deep religious con- 
viction when making its worst muck of its place. It's enoug^i 
to bring down on us the Olympian sanitary inspector. I 
want a clear space in that jolly old riot. Then I shan't mind 
the Gadarene rush so much. It might be comic to watch it 
then, something to pass the time; but I've no fancy to be 
among the hooves.' 

* Well, by God, Norrie, I never thought of it before. 
But you're afraid.' 

* I am, when it comes down to it. You've given it a name. 
When I look at life in the eyes, in the hope of finding reason 
in it, my little inside turns pale. Cast your mind back to the 
Thames embankment at midnight, and get the horrors ' (a). 

(m) * Of course this death has been troubling me.' 

* Aziz was so fond of her too.' 

* But it has made me remember that we must all die : all 
these personal relations we try to live by are temporary. I 
used to feel death selected people, it is a notion one gets from 
novels, because some of the characters are usually left talking 
at the end. Now " death spares no one " begins to be real.' 

* ... I want to go on living a bit.' 
4 So do I.' 

A friendliness, as of dwarfs shaking hands, was in the air. 
Both man and woman were at the height of their powers 
sensible, honest, even subtle. They spoke the same language, 
and held the same opinions, and the variety of age and sex 
did not divide them. Yet they were dissatisfied. When they 
agreed, * I want to go on living a bit,' or, * I don't believe in 
God,' the words were followed by a curious backwash as 
though the universe had displaced itself to fill up a tiny void, 
or as though they had seen their own gestures from an im- 
mense height dwarfs talking, shaking hands and assuring 
each other that they stood on the same footing of insight. 
They did not think they were wrong, because as soon as 
honest people think they are wrong instability sets up. Not 
for them was an infinite goal behind the stars, and they never 

(a) Go/lions Reach. 



262 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

sought it. But wistfulness descended on them now, as on 
other occasions ; the shadow of the shadow of a dream fell 
over their clear-cut interests, and objects never seen again 
seemed messages from another world (a). 

The attempt to use the slang, the humour, and the 
catchwords of modern conversation as a medium for 
serious communication, for expressing, as in (1), the 
most private thoughts and feelings of human beings, 
is clearly a failure. A failure of such a kind that a 
sensitive reader winces. It is not merely that the 
author of (1) has a not very fine sensibility himself and 
not very profound sentiments to impart that is in his 
favour in such an attempt. Had they been further 
removed from the level at which this idiom functions, 
the effect could not but have been yet more harrowing. 
It would be like Lear rewritten in the language of Sam 
Weller. 

Yet to reject the rhythms of the contemporary idiom 
by returning to a language of the past is to sacrifice 
everything. That is why historical novels cannot be 
taken seriously by the critic, however seriously they 
may be taken by their authors ; Esmond is a perfect 
tour de force, so is The Brook Kerith, and they are of 
great technical interest to those who are interested in 
technique for its own sake, and that is all that can be 
said for them. Even to use the English of Defoe and 
Richardson to treat contemporary life is no more satis- 
factory : Lady into Fox and its successors and imitators 
communicate nothing, they are merely graceful con- 
fessions of failure, of all gestures the most idle. What 
we see in (m) is the author using his privilege to express 
in his own terms what his personae are unable to express 

(a) Passage to India. 



LIVING AT THE NOVELIST'S EXPENSE 263 

in theirs. But to do this is to restrict the possible 
appeal of the novel to the topmost stratum of the 
reading public. 

A novelist has now, therefore, to choose between 
these alternatives : either to deal in stereotyped 
humour (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and the works of 
P. G. Wodehouse are examples of ingenious variations 
on a laugh in one place cf. humour of the eighteenth 
and nineteenth centuries, which communicated a whole 
comic attitude), popular ideology (The Constant Nymph 
was a bestseller because of its moving treatment of the 
conventionally unconventional artist), popular preju- 
dice (vide Part II. Chapter IV. for the bestseller as an 
exhibition of herd prejudice), at the level of serious- 
ness permitted by an idiom in which neither particular 
states of feeling can be conveyed nor human relations 
treated with dignity and delicacy in this way he can 
reach the bulk of the reading public ; or, if he insists 
on offering the novel as a serious communication of 
organised experience, he must be willing to sacrifice a 
potential public and write only for the highbrow. (Of 
course, no such deliberate choice is ever made in 
practice, nature has taken the decision out of his hands ; 
but such is the indirect effect of the state of the twentieth- 
century reading public). If he has made the latter 
choice there are these possibilities open to him : 

(i) He may if he is peculiarly happily circum- 
stanced find a stylisation in terms of a living 
traditional culture fine enough to permit him to 
do boldly and with economy what the author of 
(m) h#s to do tentatively and deviously (example, 
T. F. Powys). 

or (2) He may compose a stylisation of con- 



264 FICTION AND THE READING PUBtlC 

temporary cultivated life which the best example 
is Henry James will inevitably suffer from etiola- 
tion, besides having for obvious reasons to make 
paralysing sacrifices of scope. It has also to be a 
thoroughgoing stylisation with no hankering after 
verisimilitude : the fact that all the personae in any 
Henry James novel speak alike and none like life is 
too well known for comment (those interested will 
even find a telegram in Jacobean English in The 
Great Good Place). 

or (3) If his interest lies in the comoedic he may 
make realistic conversation and the current idiom 
serve a satiric purpose, supplemented by a style of 
his own for explication. It is almost necessarily a 
style which extends the borders of the prose and 
exploits the possibilities of the language of the age. 
This seems to be the most fruitful field for the 
serious novelist of the twentieth century, and explains 
why the modern novel is said to be poetic or to 
exhibit poetic prose (examples James Joyce, D. H. 
Lawrence, E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf). 
The important point, however, is that the general 
reader of our time is only getting his * thought,' his 
explication of experience, at the level of (d) or at best 
of (e). Now the spectator of Elizabethan drama, 
though he might not be able to follow the ' thought ' 
minutely in the great tragedies, was getting his amuse- 
ment from the mind and sensibility that produced those 
passages, from an artist and not from one of his own 
class (cf. p. 85). There was then no such complete 
separation as we have just seen to exist between the life 
of the cultivated and the life of the generality : the 
artist and the ordinary citizen felt and thought in the 



LIVING AT THE NOVELIST'S EXPENSE 265 

same idiom, there was a way of communication open 
between them. We have seen, too, that as late as George 
Eliot's day the serious novel could be, and actually was, 
read with interest and pleasure by the general reading 
public ; since then such an occurrence has only taken 
place at rare intervals and has been something of an 
event in literary history. At the end of an earlier 
chapter (p. 169) Conrad and Hardy were named as the 
last great novelists known to the nation at large, and 
for different reasons. Conrad's popularity was of the 
kind that is liable to occur again it actually has with 
the success of Passage to India in the year of publication 
as something of a bestseller at three levels. At the 
lowest it was * a story that grips the imagination ' (a) 
(this kind of response means that the reader skips 
"nearly everything but the dialogue), and heated dis- 
cussions took place as to what really happened in the 
cave ; at another, it was a revealing account of the 
Anglo-Indian situation (in this way it became popular 
in the United States) ; while the fact that the novel is 
a work of art concerned with the total human situation 
in the modern world of which India is taken as the 
particular concrete instance was probably realised by 
very few of those who read it. 

Conrad, somewhat in the same way, became popular 
as ' the Kipling of the South Seas ' (when his first novel 
appeared he was so hailed in the Times), and the dust- 
jacket of the cheap edition of Lord Jim used to describe 
the contents as the story of a young man who after 
various failures finally made good. Conrad's best 
work The Secret Agent, Heart of Darkness, and some 

(a) * In Passage to India he has told a story that grips the imagination.' 
A Study of the Modern Novel, A. R. Marble. 



266 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

others is not popular : it allows no such romantic 
interpretation, the irony is too apparent and de- 
structive. But on the strength of the earlier novels he 
was accepted as a classic without any dispute, if not by 
the man in the street at least by the readef-s of John o* 
London's ; although his complicated technique made 
reading difficult it was evident that the author, like 
Marlowe, was a simple soul, that he subscribed un- 
questioningly to the romantic conventions, idealising 
woman and the strong silent man in the familiar 
magazine tradition and exhibiting in the person of his 
heroes an uplifting symbolism (it is a weakness of his 
early work that he is sometimes guilty of all this at 
moments. His power of recovery is amazing). All 
this made Conrad generally acceptable. 

Hardy is popular for the right reasons. Compare 
his irony with Conrad's, and his technique for securing 
it. Hardy's novels are constructed in such a way that 
a certain type of critic is able to draw diagrams of them. 
The satisfaction Hardy obviously derived from arrang- 
ing simple geometric designs was that of a simple 
mind which has succeeded in making a pattern out of 
the complexities of existence ; what he has done is to 
sacrifice the complexity, so that in The Mayor of Caster- 
bridge, an extreme case, not a sentence is uttered that 
does not serve to provide ironic contrast or to anticipate 
it. And this effect is found generally pleasing it is 
always cheering to have an obvious (even if dismal) 
thread to follow. Hardy's irony is of the kind that 
most people can grasp obvious, dramatic, and 
impressive. Conrad is engaged in expressing an 
infinitely more complex sense of the irony of human 
aspirations, and the at first sight unnecessarily tedious 



LIVING AT THE NOVELIST'S EXPENSE 267 

unfolding of Heart of Darkness is essential to conduct 
the reader in such a way that he is initiated into the 
significance of vast backgrounds of emotional im- 
plication ; the full force of the situation of Mr. Kurtz 
is thus gradually and overwhelmingly brought to bear 
upon him. All that Hardy needs for his effect is a 
mechanical concatenation of circumstances coin- 
cidences, factitious frustrations, conspiracies of the 
elements, and so forth, play a major part in all his 
novels. In Hardy's novels the words seem not to 
matter, even at the crises, but it is impossible to read 
satisfactorily Heart of Darkness without keeping in 
touch emotionally with every cadence. Hence the 
irony of Conrad, precipitated in the announcement 
* " Mistah Kurtz he dead," ' is not to be exhausted 
as easily as Hardy's * irony of Fate ' ; it is indeed 
inexhaustible. 

But Hardy, for reasons which may be deduced from 
various sections of this essay, is the last of his order. 
He was the kind of serious novelist whose popular 
success inevitably arose from the nature of his achieve- 
ment, and that ceased to be possible after the Victorian 
era. The popular interest in such a novel as Passage to 
India was a fluke which could not be expected to be 
repeated with any other novel by the same author. The 
importance of the Hardy type of artistic achievement 
for purposes of this enquiry is that it lends itself to 
self-education, it assists, that is, in the formation of 
taste. Thus the reader of The Return of the Native 
may quite well become in due time qualified to read 
Lear, whereas the reader of Lord Jim at the level of 
the publisher's blurb is not assisted to proceed to The 
Possessed or even to Nostromo, any more than those 



268 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLJC 

who go to Lady Chatterley's Lover or Ulysses in the 
belief that they are the latest successors of the tales of 
Paul de Kock are likely to obtain either benefit or 
satisfaction. Barring such accidents as are exemplified 
by the misapprehension of Passage to India, Lord Jim, 
and Ulysses, the serious novel can no longer percolate 
through successive strata of the reading publics ; the 
machinery (vide Part III. Chapter II.) which cuts off 
each level from the one above steps in here to reinforce 
the effect of the recently formed reading habits dis- 
cussed earlier. This probably explains the frequency 
of that purely modern phenomenon, the persistent 
reader, often well educated and not infrequently 
possessed of the best intentions, who sticks at a certain 
level the level represented by, say, the drama of 
Shaw, the David Garnett school of fiction, Georgian 
poetry, and the criticism of Professor Lascelles 
Abercrombie. His reading habits will not admit 
him to the experience of great tragedy, serious novels, 
and genuine modern poetry, or to participation in a 
rigorous critical investigation, and he sees no necessity 
for revising his habits habits formed and endorsed 
by environment. 

At a lower level there is the question raised by this 
statement of Gene Stratton Porter's : 

I happen to know that thousands of young people form 
their ideas of what they consider a wonderful and a desirable 
life to live from the books of half-a-dozen popular authors, 
and they would be infinitely better off if the Government 
actually censored books and forbade publication of those 
containing sensual and illegitimate situations which inti- 
mately describe how social and national law is bVoken by 
people of wealth and unbridled passions. There is one great 
beauty in idealized romance : reading it can make no one 



LIVING AT THE NOVELIST'S EXPENSE 269 

worse than he is. It may fire thousands to higher aspiration 
than they ever before have had. 

In a previous paragraph the same authoress had 

written : 



Now what do I care for the newspaper or magazine critics 
yammering that there is not such a thing as a moral man, and 
that my pictures of life are sentimental and idealized. They 
are ! And I glory in them ! They form idealized pictures of 
life because they are copied from life where it touches religion, 
chastity, love, home and hope of Heaven ultimately. 

This may be taken to be the description of his work 
which every great bestseller would be willing to 
endorse. If the reader will turn back a few pages he 
will find some reasons for supposing that such pictures 
of life are less healthy in their influence than Mrs. 
Porter imagined. Working from the findings of this 
essay a censorship of fiction would find it necessary to 
suppress most of the bestsellers of the last fifty years 
and some before them Charles Kingsley, for instance, 
and the novel in which extract No, 429 of The Oxford 
Book of English Prose occurs ; while Joyce and 
Lawrence, the present objects of official and unofficial 
censorship, would receive recognition as the * ex- 
tremely serious and improving writers ' Mr. T. S. 
Eliot has recently described them as being. If this 
essay has given evidence only to this effect, it will in the 
writer's opinion have amply justified itself. 



But perhaps something further may be thought 
necessary to justify a demonstration so depressing. 
And there is so much to offer under this head that it 
would be easier to write a chapter than a page. But 



270 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

such a chapter would be outside the plan of the present 
undertaking : a page must do. r 

In the introduction to this study I offered an account 
of my reasons for adopting the method of approach I 
call ' anthropological/ It is pertinent for the reader to 
enquire, after patiently following the exposition, To 
what end ? I am able only to outline briefly the lines 
of the answer to that question. First, I have here 
isolated and shown the workings of a number of 
tendencies which, having assumed the form of com- 
mercial and economic machinery, are now so firmly 
established that they run on their own and whither 
they choose; they have assumed such a monstrous 
impersonality that individual effort towards con- 
trolling or checking them seems ridiculously futile. 
This is probably the most terrifying feature of our 
civilisation. If there is to be any hope, it must lie in 
conscious and directed effort. All that can be done, it 
must be realised, must take the form of resistance by 
an armed and conscious minority. 

This minority has two main modes of usefulness, 
between which communication would have to be kept 
up. The first is in the field of research. It is of the 
utmost importance that as many as possible should be 
made aware of what is happening, and a fully docu- 
mented presentment of the history of the reading public 
is an essential means to this end. It may be further 
argued that what we have here is a type case, a particular 
instance of a general process at work in the modern 
world. Many other studies of the same kind are 
needed in order to examine and document the cultural 
situation in as many relevant fields as possible, with a 
view to informing and equipping the active minority. 



LIVING AT THE NOVELIST'S EXPENSE 271 

For example, the plight of the small countries Scandi- 
navian and English-speaking especially in these days 
when mass-production conditions determine the supply 
of literature, ought to be investigated. And many kin- 
dred lines of enquiry open out (some are actually being 
pursued). Such research would more than justify post- 
graduate work under the head of the Humanities. 

The profit would be not only a matter of books 
designed to foster general awareness. It would also 
mean the training of a picked few who would go out 
into the world equipped for the work of forming and 
organising a conscious minority. And this leads us to 
the second mode of usefulness of the minority, that of 
educational work in schools and universities. There 
is no reason why teaching, and the teaching of English 
in particular, should be a pis aller for the intelligent, as 
it so generally is. For though the fully-formed and 
-set when forced to face the findings of such a study as 
the present one are for the most part merely paralysed 
or take refuge in anger or cynicism (or optimism), yet 
experience shows that when the young are made aware 
of these forces they readily see the necessity for re- 
sisting. They may even be fired with a missionary 
spirit. In fact, the possibilities of education specifically 
directed against such appeals as those made by the 
journalist, the middleman, the bestseller, the cinema, 
and advertising, and the other more general influences 
discussed in this study, are inexhaustible ; some edu- 
cation of this kind is an essential part of the training of 
taste. Such a missionary spirit, however amusing to 
the psychologising observer, has played a considerable 
part in history. As a minor instance of what may be 
done by conscious resistance, the case of British 



272 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

Honduras comes to hand. Here, I am informed, we 
have a community which in deliberately setting out to 
resist American influence is actually preserving a 
traditional way of life. 

Research in Humanities and teaching might thus 
be closely correlated, to their mutual profit. There 
must be a considerable number of people at least 
potentially interested all those concerned for the 
traditional culture but at present rendered ineffective 
because isolated and out of touch. There might be 
enough such people, if rallied, to support a periodical 
and provide a sure public for a publisher. For to 
obtain the maximum efficiency for such a campaign as 
I have outlined two things would be necessary : an 
all-round critical organ and a non-commercial Press. 
One of the most depressing facts brought out by this 
study must be, for those aware of the importance of the 
critical intelligence, that the channels for disinterested 
criticism of any kind are rapidly being closed, if indeed 
any remain. One after another the serious politico- 
literary periodicals have disappeared or lowered 
their colours, and there is scarcely one left whose 
liberty of speech has not been sold to the advertiser or 
mortgaged to vested interests. They must pay their 
way, in a world in which the free exercise of the in- 
telligence grows more and more unpopular. Similarly 
with publishing (vide Part II. Chapter III, 3) : if 
anything is to be done, it must be by way of pamphlets 
and publications by a private Press with a conscious 
critical policy. It is gratifying at this point to be able 
to name The Minority Press (a\ and there is*no reason 

(a) Started in 1930 by Mr. Gordon Eraser, then an undergraduate, it began 
by publishing pamphlets which without any publicity have paid their way. 



LIVING AT THE NOVELIST'S EXPENSE 273 

why the university public should not produce and 
support such a periodical as the Calendar (so soon 
defunct) but without being restricted like the Calendar 
to literary criticism. The minority would look to such 
activities as* these to register and sum up progress, 
to assist in creating awareness, and to provide 
organisation. 

Such a hope may seem extravagant. But if anything 
is done, it will be in this way. If this way offers no 
hope, then there is none. 



274 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 



NOTES 

1 Whereas a German publisher only spends 3 per 
cent, to 4 per cent, of the cost of production on adver- 
tising, the English publisher spends about 6 per cent, 
of his turnover in advertisement, while the American 
publisher George H. Doran claims to spend 10 per 
cent, of his gross income on ' promotion/ This informa- 
tion, obtained from the article ' Publishing ' in the 
Ency. Brit. (i4th ed.), of course proves nothing, but it 
does suggest the general proposition that the more 
cultured a country the less its publishers would have 
to spend in forcing books on the public attention. 

2 A really popular-at-all-levels novel like The 
Constant Nymph, which was the book of the year 
1924-25, has only sold a million copies, and those 
largely in the 6d. Readers' Library edition. 

3 These figures are taken from the Report on Public 
Libraries (1937). It has been suggested to me by an 
eminent and experienced public librarian that the rela- 
tive percentages of fiction and non-fiction would be 
even more disproportionate were it not that librarians, 
actuated presumably by local patriotism, endeavour to 
equalise matters by transferring such sections as 
4 Juvenile Fiction ' and ' Classical Novels ' over to the 
non-fiction classifications. 

4 The head of a big public library (and in a Uni- 
versity town), when asked why there were no novels 
by D. H. Lawrence on the shelves, replied indig- 
nantly : * I've always tried to keep this library clean.' 

6 Arthur Waugh, A Hundred Tears gf Publishing 
(1930), says there are 340 branches of Boots' Library, 
with a quarter of a million subscribers. 



NOTES 275 

When these libraries sell off their out-of-date stock 
several times a year, the novels are generally worn and 
shabby, while the other books are * good as new.' 

7 A random instance from the Times (June 24th, 
1930) : ' In honour of fhe centenary of the French 
Romantic movement, the western facade of Notre 
Dame was brilliantly illuminated by flood-lighting on 
Sunday evening.' The English general public has 
never heard of the English Romantic movement, and 
the governing classes who possibly have would not in 
any case think of taking up a serious attitude to it. 
Cr. too the space given in any French newspaper to the 
death of a man of letters and a purely literary event 
with the absence of such an interest in England. Also 
the two main features of English journalism, the Sunday 
paper and the large-circulation newspaper, are both 
unknown in France. In contrast to the responsible 
interest in literature so evident in the French Press, 
the attention paid by the English journalist to the 
recent appointment of a Poet Laureate is significant. 
The announcement was made on a Saturday, and an 
inspection of the next day's newspapers showed that 
not one of the popular Sunday organs thought the news 
worth mentioning (one published a photograph of the 
new Laureate without comment), though the appoint- 
ment was what might be called a popular one. This 
is what is meant by the assertion on p. ,51 that poetry 
is no longer read. 

8 Taken as common to a majority of the following : 
a flourishing shop in the centre of a market town, a 
back-street * paper-shop,' the contents of the periodicals 
rack in a Boots' store, a W. H, Smith shop, a suburban 
newsagent's. 

9 A foreigner's opinion of the English Press 
is illuminating. The intelligent and open-minded 
Dibelius (England, Cape, 1930) comments on the 



276 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

superior appearance and good workmanship of English 
newspapers, and concludes : * In this respect the 
English standard is very high indeed, certainly higher 
than the German. But a different picture is given by 
a comparison of the contents of the newspapers of the 
two countries. While, in this respect, the better-class 
English newspaper, like the Morning Post, Manchester 
Guardian^ or Daily Chronicle [now defunct], certainly 
does not give its readers any more than the Deutsche 
Allgemeine^ Fossische, the Frankfurter Zeitung or Ham- 
burger Fremdenblatt, the great mass of English news- 
papers, even in the metropolis, are incredibly thin and 
empty. Most of them, in sharp contrast to the half- 
dozen or so papers with an international reputation, 
have practically no foreign news, little or no literary 
or general information, and no magazine page ; they 
are made up of leaders, telegrams, local gossip, and a 
mass of sporting news. In the provinces, there is the 
Scotsman and Glasgow Herald in Scotland, and, in the 
industrial areas, the Birmingham Daily Post, Liverpool 
Daily Post> the Torkshire Post, and the admirable 
Manchester Guardian ; but outside this half-dozen 
there is an almost unbelievable dulness. No one 
who has not been condemned to read a local sheet of 
that sort regularly can understand the empty chatter 
that does duty as the average play or the popular 
novel. . . .' 

10 In the Advertiser's A B C it describes itself in 
these terms : ' JOHN o' LONDON'S WEEKLY has unique 
powers of appeal. It is not a paper only for women 
or only for men ; it is a paper for both ; for the 
whole family, and it is calculated to make a direct 
appeal to clear-thinking people of educated tastes and 
a discriminating standard of comfort/ 

11 The scope of these is best suggested by their own 
advertisements in the Advertiser* $ AB C (1929): 'It 



NOTES 277 

exists to remind its readers that life is not all work and 
worny; that there is a more leisurely, laughing side, 
which contributes so much to make it worth living. 
The Editorial policy of the TATLER embraces all the 
lighter interests of the well-to-do Englishman Sport, 
Society, Motoring, Art, the Theatre. It is found in 
every club and regimental mess, in every private house 
of substance, in every doctor's waiting-room, hotel 
lounge.' * The SPHERE is representative of all that is 
best in English life. The SPHERE is read by the very 
rich, the moderately rich, and by the ordinary well-to- 
do folk of intelligence and culture throughout the 
Empire. It is the Empire's Illustrated Weekly Jour- 
nal, and is to be found, not only in club-rooms, hotels 
and libraries, but in the homes of the best people 
throughout the English-speaking world/ c The SKETCH 
was the first expression of an entirely new idea in 
British Illustrated Journalism. Before its appearance, 
in 1893, illustrated newspapers devoted themselves 
almost exclusively to the more serious of current hap- 
penings. ... It sets itself to provide cheery enter- 
tainment for the smoking-room and boudoir, and to 
illustrate the subjects most commonly discussed when 
men and women meet after the serious business of the 
day is done. Its instant and signal success is a matter 
of history. Inevitably it had many imitators,' etc. 

12 It may be useful to point out here that there is no 
reason for supposing that novelettes are bought exclus- 
ively by the uneducated and the poor. A list kindly 
made for me of the private reading-matter in a high- 
class cramming establishment states that the young men 
own all the varieties of film and detective-story maga- 
zine mentioned above, 33. 6d. and ys. 6d. novels by 
Rider rfaggard, Baroness Orczy, John Buchan, Edgar 
Wallace, Freeman Wills Crofts, and also, * There are 
a great number of gd. and is. paper novels circulating 



278 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

among them, most of them by Edgar Wallace and 
Oppenheim.' 

The writer has vainly tried to buy the Nation and 
Athen<eum> New Statesman, and Times Literary Supple- 
ment all over south-western England,and obtained them 
only (but not invariably) at the bookstalls at big railway 
junctions. The newsagents in many cases showed no 
knowledge of the names even. It is worth remember- 
ing that in France there are at least three serious literary 
weekly newspapers (i.e. literary journals in newspaper 
form which review intelligently all the notable poetry 
and criticism that appears as well as lighter works, and 
have leading articles on literary movements by distin- 
guished writers), and they can all be bought in the 
ordinary way in the little provincial towns (and are 
usually sold out on the day of issue). 

14 For illustration see Is Advertising To-Day a Burden 
or a Boon ? (The New Advertiser's Press, 1930). 

15 On the contrary, for before the war Messrs. 
Nelson published pocket editions of the classics and 
good copyright novels (e.g. Jane Austen, George Eliot, 
Thackeray, the Brontes, in Nelson's Classics, the early 
Wells, and Henry James and Conrad, in Nelson's 
Library) at 6d. and 7d. each, that really were well 
printed and bound. 

16 The Manager of the Readers' Library Publishing 
Co. Ltd., when requested to put the writer into com- 
munication with the editor of the series, regretted that 
he was unable to do so or to furnish any information, 
so that not only the identity of the distinguished man 
of letters, but also the principle on which he chooses 
the volumes for publication, must remain a dark secret. 

17 ' Edgar Wallace, although so immensely, success- 
ful in his own line of work, is too modest a man to 
claim that the mystery story necessarily belongs to the 
highest form of literature, although some of its examples 



NOTES 279 

are assuredly among the best/ From the introduction 
to Tfie Melody of Death> ' the first book by Edgar 
Wallace that the READERS' LIBRARY has had the 
honour to publish ' (1927). 

18 It is interesting to notice that Woolworth fiction 
has revived * best sellers ' of the last generation with 
considerable success : Garvice and Hocking appear to 
sell nearly as well as P. C. Wren and Edgar Wallace. 

19 As opposed to the insecurity of the acknow- 
ledged ' highbrow ' organ in the twentieth century, 
contrast the public of nine thousand genteel families 
for the Edinburgh Review a century and a quarter ago : 
' Of this work 9000 copies are printed quarterly, and 
no genteel family can pretend to be without it, because, 
independentof its politics, it gives theonly valuable liter- 
ary criticism which can be met with/ Scott to Ellis, 
November 2nd, 1808, six years after its first appear- 
ance. And Mrs. Gore, who provided for the public 
of a century ago the fiction of Ethel M. Dell at the 
speed of Edgar Wallace, whose status was that of the 
novelists in the advertisement on p. 8 (Home, A New 
Spirit of the Age (1844), says : * Wherever you see a 
board hung out at the door of a provincial or suburban 
library, containing a list of the last batch of new books, 
you may be quite certain of finding Mrs. Gore and 
Mr. James prodigiously distinguished at the head of it 
in Brobdingnagian letters '), describing the typical 
night-scene in high-life for her readers : ' Scarcely has 
the last " good-night " sounded in the last ante-room 
scarcely has the fair Viscountess, in her dressing-room, 
abandoned her perfumed locks to the delicate fingers of 
her French maid, and the worthy Viscount in the saloon 
beneath ensconced himself in a Skelmersdale chair with 
a copy'of the last Edinburgh Review in his hands 
when/ etc. (Mothers and Daughters^ 1831). Again, 
the mechanics' institutions and ' country associations,' 



280 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

and even 4 the smaller societies formed at different 
public-houses ' mentioned by Mr, George Dawson in 
his evidence before the Select Committee on Public 
Libraries, 1 849, are stated by him to take the Edinburgh 
and Quarterly. In 1817 the Edinburgh and the Quar- 
terly were each selling 12,000 copies of each number. 

The proportion of sales to total population is for the 
Edinburgh in 1810 c. one to every 1000, for the 
Adelphi one to every 10,000. 

20 For instance, to take a more obvious test- case 
than a novel, a pseudo-philosophy published in the 
autumn of 1930 was noticed in two papers thus, 
by representatives of middlebrow and highbrow 
journalism : 

4 I would wish that this book might be read by 
thousands upon thousands of readers. It is a brave, 
honest philosophy, with no nonsense about it, coloured 
with generosity and poetry. It has helped me as no 
new book of the last twenty years. . . . The book 
should be called " The Creed of a Modern Saint" ' 
Hugh Walpole in a letter to Everyman. 

4 His book contains so much quackery and gush, 
such an enormous bulk of words for so small a kernel 
of matter, that it would be easy to make a great mistake 
and think the author must be posturing. . . . His 
book contains his " philosophy of life," and the matter 
which goes to it is so exiguous that he could have said 
all he really has to say in ten pages. The rest of the 
book is a flood of (perfectly sincere) gush and endless 

repetition. . . . Mr. has really written a really 

bad book. , . . He wraps it [the kernel of truth] up 
in voluminous swaddling clothes of sentimentalism, 
mysticism and honest quackery of the kind which is 
extremely fashionable nowadays.' Leonard Woolf in 
the Nation and Athen*um. 

The difference in taste and critical ability to be noticed 



NOTES a8i 

here is representative of the publics of the two kinds of 
bette^ literary periodical. 

21 Cutting from the Evening Standard, 1928: 
4 " Vivandifcre." First Edition All Sold Out After 
Mr. Arnold. Bennett's Review. 

* Mr. Arnold Bennett's reputation as a maker of 
" best sellers " has been heightened by the addition of 
one more to the list of other people's books which the 
public has clamoured for on his word. Last week 
" Vivandi&re " meant nothing to most people, and the 
name of Miss Phoebe Fenwick Gaye conveyed no more. 
Then Mr. Arnold Bennett, in his weekly article on 
books in the " Evening Standard," mentioned that 
" Vivandi&re " was this young woman's first novel, 
and that it was very good. The demand for the book 
which has suddenly arisen has cleared the first edition 
right out of existence and still the clamour goes on.' 

The only writer of the past who could do anything 
like this was Andrew Lang in the '8o's (vide Forrest 
Reid in The Eighteen Eighties), and deplorable as his 
taste and influence were, they did not interfere with 
serious standards. He was a single case, and faded 
into obscurity before he could do any real harm. 

22 E.g. * This book will be a classic.' ' Let there 
be no mistake about it, this is a big book.' ' The best 
novel I have read this week is Iron Man. 9 ' Rogue 
Herries is a grand tale, a real full-time man's job in 
fiction, and everybody should read it.' Taken at ran- 
dom from publishers' advertisements in the Observer. 

23 While movie-magazines and women's periodicals 
published in America are increasingly read here, there 
is no give-and-take of exchange with English journal- 
ism. * The American edition of that highly successful 
British periodical, the Strand Magazine, however, had 
only a small sale ; and it has recently been discon- 
tinued. The Strand prints a good many old-style 



FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

c 

sentimental love-stories which strike the sophisticated 
American stenographer and shoe-clerk as amusing.' 
(Henry T. Baker, The Contemporary Short Story.} This 
kind of sophistication, which is revolutionising popular 
fiction in England, will be dealt with later. 

24 It must be noted here for future reference that 
4 worth-while ' apparently indicates * magazines that 
remunerate the author adequately ' rather than * maga- 
zines it is an honour to appear in/ 

25 From the booklet issued by K. MacNichol, 
where also ' The list of great writers to whom " Bob 
Davis " is literary godfather would certainly contain 
most of the big names in America, and many of our 
famous British authors who derive a large share of 
income from overseas.' 

26 For instance, Gilbert Frankau, a bestseller much 
read by the governing class, goes out of his way to 
satirise the London Mercury as the * highbrow ' organ 
(vide Life and Erica). 

27 Vide, for instance, ' The Case of Mr. Hugh Wai- 
pole,' by J. M. Murry (Athenaeum, July i6th, 1921); 
' Wilder : Prophet of the Genteel Christ,' by Michael 
Gold (New Republic, October 22nd, 1930). See also 
New Republic (U.S.A.), October 29th to December 
1 7th, 1930, for the public indignation raised by the 
latter article ; if such a critique were published in an 
English literary organ there is every reason to suppose 
that a similar storm of protesting correspondence would 
ensue. 

28 From word-of-mouth repute, since it is hardly 
possible that the Sunday Dispatch public possesses or 
is in a position to borrow an expensive book published 
in Paris, not pirated in England, and strictly banned. 
It is also worth noting, as evidence for the above con- 
clusions, that in no case is the choice of Ulysses or To 
the Lighthouse accounted for, but merely listed. 



NOTES 283 

29 Of the sixty popular novelists circularised, about 
80 pef cent, write for the magazines ; of the twenty- 
five that answered effectively, 60 per cent. 

30 63 writes : * Every publisher knows that there 
are certain figures somewhere between 4 and 6000, 
then somewhere between 12 and 15,000 at which 
novels tend to stick, and possibly these represent 
roughly the extent of certain reading publics/ It was 
noticed on p. 20 that a highbrow literary organ sells 
at the outside about 4000, the London Mercury (which 
would be a B organ) 10,000, the lowbrow literary 
weeklies (class C) jointly sell about 200,000. 

31 * George Bourne,' Memoirs of a Surrey Labourer 
(1907), Change in the Village (1912); George Sturt, 
The Wheelwright's Shop (1923). 

In Change in the Village he describes the round of 
seasonal activities of two typical survivors of the older 
generation, and ends by summarising the texture of 
their lives thus : * Not very spruce as to personal 
cleanliness, smelling of his cow-stall, saving money, 
wanting no holiday, independent of books and news- 
papers, indifferent to anything that happened further 
off than the neighbouring town, liking his pipe and 
glass of beer, and never knowing what it was to feel 
dull ' (p. 1^5). * So his work varies, week after week. 
From one job to another up and down the valley he 
goes, not listlessly and fatigued, but taking a sober 
interest in all he does. You can see in him very well 
how his forefathers went about their affairs, for he is 
plainly a man after their pattern. His day's work is 
his day's pleasure. It is changeful enough, and calls 
for skill enough, to make it enjoyable to him. . . . He 
is a man who seems to enjoy his life with an undimin- 
ished zest from morning to night. It is doubtful if the 
working hours afford, to nine out of ten modern and 
even " educated " men, such a constant refreshment of 



284 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

acceptable incidents as Turner's bring to him. He is 
perhaps the best specimen of the old stock now. left in 
the valley ; but it must not be thought that he is singu- 
lar. Others there are not very unlike him ; and all that 
one hears of them goes to prove that the old cottage 
thrift, whatever its limitations may have been, did at 
least make the day's work interesting enough to a man, 
without his needing to care about leisure evenings ' 
(p. 210). Cf. too D. H. Lawrence, * Nottingham and 
the Mining Countryside ' (NewAdelphi, August 1 930) : 
' So that the life was a curious cross between indus- 
trialism and the old agricultural England of Shake- 
speare and Milton and Fielding and George Eliot. 
The dialect was broad Derbyshire, and always " thee " 
and " thou." The people lived almost entirely by 
instinct, men of my father's age could not really read. 
And the pit did not mechanise men. On the contrary. 
Under the butty system, the miners worked under- 
ground as a sort of intimate community. . . . My 
father loved the pit. The great fallacy is, to pity the 
man. He was happy : or more than happy, he was 
fulfilled. ... In my father's generation, with the old 
wild England behind them, and the lack of education, 
the man was not beaten down. But in my generation, 
the boys I went to school with, colliers now, have all 
been beaten down, what with the din-din-dinning of 
Board bchools, books, cinemas, clergymen, the whole 
national and human consciousness hammering on the 
fact of material prosperity above all things. . . . Even 
the farm-labourer to-day is psychologically a town-bird.' 
82 c Though the normal hours were too long, the men 
were glad of overtime. In this connection it should be 
pointed out that in those days a man's work, though 
more laborious to his muscles, was not nearly so ex- 
hausting yet tedious as machinery and " speeding-up " 
have since made it for his mind and temper. " Eight 



NOTES 285 

hours " to-day is less interesting and probably more 
toilsome than " twelve hours " then. . . . Already 
during the eighties and nineties of last century, work 
was growing less interesting to the workman, although 
far more sure in its results. ... Of course wages are 
higher. But no higher wage, no income, will buy for 
men that satisfaction which of old until machinery 
made drudges of them streamed into their muscles 
all day long from close contact with iron, timber, clay, 
wind and w*ve, horse-strength. It tingled up in the 
niceties of touch, sight, scent. But these intimacies 
are over. Although they have so much more leisure 
men can now taste little solace in life, of the sort that 
skilled hand-work used to yield to them.' George 
Sturt, The Wheelwright's Shop. 

33 Reprinted in Books and Persons, Arnold Bennett, 
Middle Class,' p. 67. For the state of the reading 

public before the war, see also c The Book Buyer,' p. 25, 
and 'The Potential Public/ p. 76. 

34 Vide Scott's autobiography of his youth (Lock- 
hart's Life of Scoff) : * A respectable subscription 
library, a circulating library of ancient standing, and 
some private book-shelves were open to my random 
perusal. ... I continued a long time reading what 
and how I pleased, and of course reading nothing but 
what afforded me immediate entertainment. The only 
thing which saved my mind from utter dissipation was 
that turn for historical pursuit, which never abandoned 
me even at the idlest period/ And he speaks for his 
age (and the next) when he sums up the case for and 
against the novel in his essay on Fielding in Lives of 
the Novelists : ' Excluding from consideration those 
infamous^works, which address themselves directly to 
awakening the grosser passions of our nature, we are 
inclined to think, the worst evil to be apprehended 
from the perusal of novels is, that the habit is apt to 



286 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

generate an indisposition to real history, and useful 
literature ; and that the best which can be hoped is 
that they may sometimes instruct the youthful mind 
by real pictures of life, and sometimes awaken their 
better feelings and sympathies by strains* of generous 
sentiments, and tales of fictitious woe.' 

36 The novelist Bi describes the plight of an intelli- 
gent writer in such conditions. * By nature I am en- 
tirely a man of action and not of letters. I have no 
quarrel with life, and so I have to depevid upon re- 
captured emotion. That is why my books which 
embody personal experience are always better. Fan- 
tasy is to me both tedious to read and tedious to write/ 
He adds that he makes ' scarcely any appeal to the 
unsophisticated public.' " I have jumped about from 
style to style, and built up for myself a public unlike 
that of most other novelists of the day, because it is 
seldom the same public. There is the public which 
only cares for my writing when it is the lived thing 
written with the intensity of recaptured emotion ; 
there is the public which dislikes me in that mood and 
which always wants me to be amusing. There was 
that public which only likes caviare. That of course 
did not survive long. The literary caviare of yesterday 
is so often the boiled mutton and caper sauce of to-day. 
There is a small public which likes my ecclesiastical 
work. So, to return to whether I have studied my 
public or not, what I have studied is how to keep my 
various publics entertained in turn.' [Of Scott and 
DickensJ * Popular journalism had not been invented, 
and the writer on the whole preserved a dignity that 
added to his sense of responsibility, for his public was 
less fickle because there were fewer novelties. ... It 
would be ridiculous for me to pretend that I could ever 
bring myself to find the superb aloofness to write a book 
like James Joyce's Ulysses or some of D, H. Lawrence's 



NOTES 287 

books. I wish I could. But I should never have the 
courage to cut myself free. I am aware that my job as a 
novelist is to entertain the public, and the way I manage 
to entertain myself in the process is, as I have indicated 
above, by writing to entertain various publics/ 

36 * Licenses increased steadily during 1930. During 
the summer period, normally regarded as an " off 
season," the average number of new licenses taken out 
each month, apart from renewals and after subtracting 
non-renewald, was in excess of 20,000. Statisticians 
will continue to argue about " saturation points." So 
far as the B.B.C. is concerned, there is no saturation 
point short of " wireless in every home." The number 
of licenses in force on September 3Oth, 1930, was 
3,195,553, representing about 12,000,000 listeners, 
or roughly every second home in the country. . . . 
The possibility also of there still being a number of 
unlicensed listeners must not be forgotten.' The 
B.B.C. Tear Book, 1931. 

37 It is a commonplace that not only the younger 
but the older generation as well automatically turn on 
' the Wireless ' as they enter the living-room. Midday 
and evening meals and evening parties are conducted 
with an undercurrent of sound from the loud speaker. 
The ordinary lower- and middle-class evening interior 
shows every member of the family with a library novel 
or a magazine and ' the Wireless ' ' on/ 

38 This does not mean that the novels of Scott, for 
instance, will not be abandoned by the public (as in 
fact they have been) in favour of such substitutes as 
this advertisement describes : 

4 An All Talking, Singing and Dancing Drama 
THE LOVES OF ROBERT BURNS 

Britain's Great National Talkie Bright with 
Song and Dance/ 



a88 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

But the fantasy-novel is felt to yield more satisfaction 
in book form. Cf. the successful production of ' the 
book of the film * in sixpenny editions discussed in 
Chapter II. Many of the D novelists stated that the 
sales of a novel rose suddenly after the film of it had 
appeared. 

* 9 Cf. the shrinking of social life in one generation 
caused by the changes that have replaced the axiom, 
4 No nice girl dances more than twice in one evening 
with the same man/ by the regular dancing-partner, 
evenings at home round the piano when friends dropped 
in to sing and dance, providing their own entertainment, 
by evenings at the dance-hall and the cinema, neigh- 
bourly informal visiting by whist-drives and bridge- 
parties and telephone calls, and the close contacts of 
religious interests by Sundays out in the car. The car 
has replaced the piano as the sign of social status. 

40 First published 1909, sold considerably more 
than 1 50,000 copies in the first nine months (Florence 
Barclay's first novel), a bestseller ever since, and in 
1928 was running as a serial in Woman's World (' The 
Favourite Paper of a Million Homes '), 2d. weekly. 

41 The Life of Florence L. Barclay By One of Her 
Daughters (1912); Life and Letters of Gene Stratton 
Porter, Jeannette Porter Meehan (1927); Memoirs of 
Marie Corelli, Bertha Vyver (1930). 

42 Florence Barclay's biographer states : ' My 
mother received a large number of letters . . . the 
quite intimate letters oflonely people seeking sympathy 
and understanding ; or of happy readers eager to tell 
from full hearts how much her books had meant to 
them, sometimes merely in simple enjoyment, some- 
times spiritually, or in helping to solve life's problems/ 
For such readers Marie Corelli and Florence Barclay 
represent serious reading, as opposed to the novel or 
magazine that kills time. Cf. a sergeant-major during 



NOTES 289 

the war trying to raise the conversation to the level of 
his educated companion by referring to Ella Wheeler 
Wilcdx, Omar Khayyam, and Marie Corelli. Of the 
latter he said, * It isn't the story you read her for, it's 
the thought* 

43 Marie Corelli claimed ' literary honours * and 
considered herself the prose Shakespeare ; Gene 
Stratton Porter was bewildered by the critics who 
refused her ' a first-grade literary reputation ' ; Hall 
Caine also < saw himself as the Shakespeare of the 
novel ; Mrs. Barclay thought of her writings as reli- 
gious and not literary at all. All these novelists were 
untroubled by doubt. If they attacked the critics, it 
was because they thought themselves deprived of 
recognition by jealousy. 

44 E.g. ' She " cut " church for it [packing] and 
felt (despite all her professed irreligion) more than a 
little guilty/ Gilbert Frankau, Life and Erica. 

' For Sorrell's sufferings and struggles had not led 
him towards the illusion of socialism. He had seen 
too much of human nature. Labour, becoming sec- 
tionalised, would split into groups, and group would 
grab from group, massing for the struggle instead of 
fighting a lone fight. Only the indispensable and indi- 
vidual few would be able to rise above this scramble 
of the industrial masses. , . . Social service ? Oh yes, 
ten thousand years hence perhaps. But for the 
moment arms and not too much trust in your 
neighbour/ Warwick Deeping, Sorrell and Son. 

In the novels of Ethel M. Dell the Bohemian 
boyish heroines say ' damn ' and c Hell/ shocking the 
company, the authoress, and presumably the reader. 

45 Cf. Jeannette Porter Meehan, Life and Letters of 
Gene Stratton Porter : ' Mother knew both sides of life, 
but she chose to write only about one side. She knew 
the stern realities, the immorality, and the seamy dis- 



290 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

gusting sidelights of life. But why write about them ? 
Every one has his own trouble and heartache, so why 
not give the world something happy to read, and* make 
them see visions of idealised life ? Surely this does 
more good than sordid tales of sex filth that only lead 
to morbid and diseased thinking. . . . Mother's ideas 
must have been right, for the few times she strayed 
from the path and tried other themes, her audiences 
were amazed and shocked. They did not like it ! ' 

And the literary agent : ' Comfortable sentiment is 
absolutely necessary for popular success/ George G. 
Magnus, How to Write Saleable Fiction (i4th edition 
1926). 

46 Deloney in The Gentle Craft relates how Simon 
Eyre's fellow prentices would answer his Northern Jigs 
with their Southern Songs as they worked, and he 
quotes approvingly the * old proverbe They prove ser- 
vants kind and good, That sing at their businesse like 
birds in the wood.' 

4 Music spread upwards from the masses to the 
classes.' Shakespeare's England, Vol. n. p. 21. 

47 Chappell, Vol. n., * The Reign of Charles n.,' 
adduces evidence to show that ' the cultivation of music 
could not have declined to any extent, in spite of the 
long reign and depressing influence of puritanism ; or 
else the revival must have been singularly rapid.' And 
he investigates Pepys's Diary, which shows that all 
Pepys's household servants over a long period could at 
least sing well and usually play various instruments 
besides. The typical amusement of the Pepys house- 
hold is represented by the entry under September 9th, 
1664 : ' After dinner, my wife and Mercer [the ser- 
vant-girl], Tom [his page] and I, sat till eleven at night, 
singing and fiddling, and a great joy it is to see me 
master of so much pleasure in my house.' And one 
remembers the rather surprising part that music plays 



NOTES 291 

in Pilgrim's Progress, Part II. (1684), especially the 
rejoicing at Giant Despair's overthrow : ' Now Chris- 
tiana,* if need was, could play upon the viol, and her 
daughter Mercy upon the lute ; so since they were so 
merry disposed, she played them a lesson, and Ready- 
to-halt would dance. So he took Despondency's 
daughter, named Much-afraid, by the hand, and to 
dancing they went in the road.' 

48 Even Pepys at the comparatively degenerate date 
of 1660 nfentions (February ist) how he ' met with 
Mr. Lock(e) and Pursell, Master of Musique, and went 
with them to the Coffee House. . . . Here we had 
variety of brave Italian and Spanish songs, and a canon 
for eight voices, which Mr. Lock had lately made.' 

49 Vide Annals of St. Paul's Cathedral, Henry Hart 
Milman (1869), p. 328. ' It is difficult for a Dean of 
our rapid and restless days to imagine, when he surveys 
the massy folios of Donne's sermons, a vast congrega- 
tion in the Cathedral or at Paul's Cross, listening not 
only with patience but with absorbed interest, with un- 
flagging attention, even with delight and rapture, to 
these interminable disquisitions, to us teeming with 
laboured obscurity, false and misplaced wit, fatiguing 
antitheses. However set off, as by all accounts they 
were, by a most graceful and impressive delivery, it is 
astonishing to us that he should hold a London con- 
gregation enthralled, unwearied, unsatiated. Yet there 
can be no doubt that this was the case. And this 
congregation consisted, both of the people down to the 
lowest, and of 'the most noble, wise, accomplished of 
that highly intellectual age.' (Quoted by Logan 
Pearsall Smith, Donne's Sermons, p. xvii.) And vide 
T. S. EHot, For Lancelot Andrewes, on the nature of 
the demand made by Andrewes' sermons. Sermon- 
going was a regular pastime of the ordinary jolly 
citizen (cf. Hollyband's conversation manual, The 



292 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

c 

French Schoolemaister (1573), reprinted in The Eliza- 
bethan Home (Cobden-Sanderson) as ' The Citizen at 
Home'; also John Manningham's Diary i6fc>2-3, 
which, though he was not particularly religious, records 
at length forty odd sermons that he hoard in the 
fifteen months). 

60 Martin wrote his first tract, The Epistle, in reply 
to a treatise by John Bridges, Dean of Sarum, of which 
he complains : * And learned Brother Bridges, a man 
might almost run himself out of breath before he could 
come to a full point in many places in your book ' (The 
Epistle, p. 36). Marginal note by Martin : * Wo, wo ! 
Dean, take breath and then to it again ' (p. 37). 

Nashe seems to have been aware of the demands he 
made : * Be of good cheere, my weary Readers, for I 
have espied land, as Diogenes said to his weary Schollers 
whe.i he had read to a waste leafe,' he observes cheer- 
fully at one point in The Prayse of the Red Herring 
which nevertheless was written to make money when 
he was lying up at Yarmouth. No wonder the un- 
cultivated reader preferred his reading to offer him the 
guiding - lines of rime and metre. (Fide Webbe, 
Preface to his Discourse of English Poetrie.} 

51 Pettie dedicates * To the Gentle Gentlewomen 
Readers ' * Gentle Readers, whom by my will I 
would have only gentlewomen, and therefore to you I 
direct my words ' ; * Euphues had rather lye shut in 
a Ladyes casket, then open in a Schollers studie ' ; it 
was * the Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia' 

52 Paris mus, The Renouned Prince of Bohemia, 1598- 
1599 (2 parts, the second being the history of Paris- 
menos). Esdaile records nearly three pages of sur- 
viving editions, up to 1730 c. 

The Most Pleasant Historie of Ornatus and Artesia, 
referred to in Palladis Tamia (1598), 'The Eighth 
Impression* 1683, and so till 



NOTES 293 

The Famous Historic ofMontelyon, Knight of the Oracle, 
and Sonne to the Renouned Persicles King of Assyria. 

53 *Ornatus is described simply as * of goodly stature, 
and commendable gifts/ Artesia as * of exceeding 
comeliness^, exteriorly beautified with abundance of 
gifts of nature, and inwardly adorned with abundance 
of divine perfections/ 

64 ' How popular his novels were may be judged 
from the long period in which they held the public 
estimation^ often reprinted through the I yth century 
and surviving plentifully in chap-book form into the 
1 8th (e.g. The B.M. and the Bodleian together contain 
seven i8th century chap-book versions of the Gentle 
Craft, I.).' F. O. Mann, Introduction to Deloney's 
Works. 

65 E.g. vide Deloney's Works, ed. F. O. Mann, 
p. 24 : [ 4 Welcome to mee lack of Newberie (said the 
Queene) though a Clothier by trade, yet a Gentleman 
by condition '] ; and p. 101 [particularly the Persian 
general's admission to his conqueror Crispianus the shoe- 
maker : * I find it true, that Magnanimity and Knightly 
Prowesse is not alwayes tied within the compasse of 
Noble blood/ This is worth noticing to bring home 
another point, that the English ideal of a gentleman at 
this time had as focus the idea of the noble mind], 

56 Cf. the Greene King's wife (The Gentle Craft, II. 
Chap, x.) who made a success of her bankrupt hus- 
band's business, so that her neighbours began to offer 
her civilities. 4 I neighbour (quoth she) I know your 
kindnesse and may speake thereof by experience : well 
may I compare you to him that would never bid any 
man to dinner, but at two of the clocke in the after 
noone, when he was assured they had fild their bellies 
before, and that they would not touch his meate, except 
for manners sake : wherefore for my part I will give 
you thankes, when I take benefit of your proffer. 



294 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

t 

'Why neighbour we speake for good will (quoth 
they) : 

' Tis true (quoth shee) and so say they that calf for a 
fresh quart to bestow on a drunken man, when they 
know it would doe him as much good in his bootes as 
in his belly.' And Chapter vii. when Sir John Rains- 
ford encounters the priest who will not bury the poor 
widow's husband without fee : * Sir John Rainsford 
seeing him stand so peremptory on his points, swore a 
deep oath, that it were best for him to btiry him or 
(quoth he) He bury thee ; 

' Bury me (said the Priest) a fig for you, and bury 
blind bayard when he is dead, or the dogs that your 
Hauks will not eate. 

' The Knight at these words being marvelous angry 
commanded his men to take him up and cast him into 
the grave ... at what time the Priest cried out, hold, 
hold, for God's sake, let me rise and I will bury him. 

* Nay soft (quoth the Knight) thou art not like to rise, 
no rising heere before the generall resurrection, that 
thou shalt rise to iudgement.' 

57 It is now impossible to count on even an educated 
person's knowing his Bunyan. 

58 Far subtler in perception than that of many 
eighteenth and nineteenth-century professional novelists 
of repute, y 7 /^, for instance, the account of Mr. Fearing 
(Pilgrim's Progress y Part II.), and Mr. By-ends of the 
town of Fair-speech (Part II.) : *. . , " and to tell you 
the truth I am become a gentleman of good quality, yet 
my great-grandfather was but a waterman, looking one 
way and rowing another, and I got most of my estate 
by the same occupation. . . . My wife is a virtuous 
woman, the daughter of a virtuous woman ; she was 
my Lady Feigning's daughter, therefore she came of a 
very honourable family, and is arrived to such a pitch 
of breeding, that she knows how to carry it to all, even 



NOTES 295 



to prince and peasant." * If one examines Fielding and 
Smollett with Bunyan in mind, it becomes evident that 
theiri principal characters are simply-perceived types 
drawn from outside in the tradition of the Theo- 
phrastian character-writing, and the minor roles filled 
up with variations on the conventional humorous and 
eccentric characters of the contemporary drama. 

69 * Wiseman : " Why, there was not any other 
alteration in him than what was made by his disease 
upofl his i>ody. Sickness, you know, will alter the 
body, also pains and stitches will make men groan ; but 
for his mind he had no alteration there. His mind was 
the same, his heart was the same. He was the self- 
same Mr. Badman still. Not only in name but con- 
ditions, and that to the very day of his death ; yea, so 
far as could be gathered, to the very moment in which 
he died." 

4 Attentive : " Pray, how was he in his death ? Was 
death strong upon him? Or did he die with ease, 
quietly? " 

* Wiseman : " As quietly as a lamb. There seemed 
not to be in it, to standers by, so much as a strong 
struggle of nature. And as for his mind, it seemed to 
be wholly at quiet." ' 

The deliberate sacrifice of an obvious ' lesson * here 
may be contrasted with Richardson in similar circum- 
stances for instance, the death of the bawd Mrs. 
Sinclair in Clarissa. 

60 Similarly Roxana declares : * Sir Robert and I 
agreed exactly in our notions of a merchant* Sir 
Robert said, and I found it to be true, that a true-bred 
merchant is the best gentleman in the nation ; that in 
knowledge, in manners, in judgement of things, the 
merchant outdid many of the nobility/ This is an 
interesting illustration of the point made below that 
Defoe's position was more complicated than that of 



296 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLjC 

the cynically conscious journalist of Part I, Chap. II. 
The feeling that produced the passage * a true-bred 
merchant is the best gentleman in the nation ' was 
obviously genuine, though the passage was put in for 
strictly business reasons. And the ideal of the true- 
bred merchant is a dignified and respectable one. 

81 ' I must say he was a grave, sober, pious, and 
most religious person ; exact in his life, extensive in 
his charity, and exemplary in almost everything he did. 
What, then, can one say against my being wy sensible 
of the value of such a man notwithstanding his profes- 
sion, though it may be my opinion, perhaps, as well as 
the opinion of others who shall read this, that he was 
mistaken? ... he was not the first Catholic that I 
had conversed with without falling into any incon- 
veniences . . . as he was of a most obliging gentleman- 
like behaviour, so he was, if I may be allowed to say 
so, a man of good sense, and, as I believe, of great 
learning.* Robinson Crusoe, Part II. 

62 * ... our Spaniards, who were (to give them a 
just character) men of the best behaviour, of the most 
calm, sedate tempers, and perfect good humour, that 
ever I met with. . . . Then the Englishmen asked the 
Spaniards if they designed to take any of them ? [the 
women]. But every one answered, No : some of them 
said they had wives in Spain ; and the others did not 
like women that were not Christians ; and all together 
declared, that they would not touch one of them ; 
which was an instance of such virtue as I have not met 
with in all my travels ' . . . ' the Spaniard governor, 
who was the most gentleman-like, generous-minded 
man, that ever I met with in my life.' Ibid. 

63 Cf. Roxana : ' And let nobody conclude from the 
strange success I met with in all my wicked doings, and 
the vast estate which I had raised by it, that therefore 
I either was happy or easy. No, no, there was a dart 



NOTES 297 

stuck into the liver ; there was a secret hell within,' etc. 
But it is not very convincing, and probably neither 
author nor reader cared that it should be; all that 
mattered was that the decencies were observed, and the 
reader could continue to identify herself with the 
heroine without any doubts as to the moral efficacy of 
the book. 

64 ' I have just been propounding to Forster if it is 
not a wonderful testimony to the homely force of truth, 
that one of the most popular books on earth has nothing 
in it to make any one laugh or cry. Yet I think with 
some confidence that you never did either over any 
passage in Robinson Crusoe. 9 

65 That is to say, Robinson Crusoe^ Cook's Voyages, 
An son's Voyage Round the World among the most 
popular books of the age. 

66 The civilising influence of Methodism in the 
eighteenth century can hardly be exaggerated. Besides 
doing the work of the Salvation Army kind at the 
lowest level turning brutes into decent citizens it 
was directly a cultural force, the equivalent of the Scot's 
Calvinism described by the Ettrick Shepherd when he 
protested against the proposed measures for ' edu- 
cating ' the rural population (Nodes Ambrosian*, April 
1826), asserting that ' kintra folk in Scotland hae a', or 
maistly a', gude education already. What will you 
think, when I tell you that in Ettrick there are three 
debatin' societies? . . . they're a' young chiels, and 
they debate about doctrinal points o' religion and 
morals, and subjects interesting to men as members and 
heads o' families. They are a' Calvinistic, and no 
sceptical but on the contrar, they haud to the Scrip- 
tures. They are a' gude kirk-goers, and keep a sharp 
ee on the minister in the pulpit.' Cf. Lackington on 
the influence of Methodism : * It was by their preach- 
ing that I was taught to call upon God for his grace 



298 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

c 

to enable me to turn from my vicious course of life, 
and through which I became a real Christian. It was 
by their means also that I was excited to improve a little 
my intellectual faculties . . . and it is well known that 
many, very many, instances of the same kind might be 
adduced ' (Sequel to the Life of James Lackingtori). 

67 Vide the violently Tory Matthias : ' We are no 
longer in an age of ignorance ; and information is not 
partially distributed according to the ranks, and orders, 
and functions, and dignities of social life. I am 
scarcely able to name any man whom I consider as 
wholly ignorant. Our peasantry now read the Rights 
of Man on mountains, and moors, and by the way side.' 
Preface to the Fourth and Last Dialogue of the Pursuits 
of Literature (1797). 

68 The degree of self-education incidental to a 
specific interest in theology appears to account for the 
remarkable civilisation of the Scottish poor in the last 
century. A vivid account of the social life of the 
poorest quarter of Edinburgh in 1815 is given by 
William Chambers in his Memoir of William and Robert 
Chambers, Chap. iv. : ' In the evenings, when mason 
and carpenter lads dropped in, the conversation turned 
chiefly on sermons. Each visitor brought with him 
experiences as to how texts had been handled on the 
preceding Sunday ; on which there ensued discussions 
singularly characteristic of a well-known phase in the 
Scotch mind/ etc. The well-known and century-old 
ambition of every poor Scotch family to have a son in 
the Church led to a general dissemination of culture 
that is perhaps the most pleasing result of the Puritan 
conscience. To take one instance out of a host Eliza 
Fletcher's account of her summer in the Highlands in 
1820, with its 'pleasant intercourse with' Farmer 
Buchanan, whose character had more of the Lowland 
than of the Highland type. He was a very fine speci- 



NOTES 299 

men of human nature, and we used to enjoy a talk with 
him much when he was binding up his sheaves, or 
when the labours of the day were over he returned to 
his cottage and the enjoyment of his books. His know- 
ledge of what was passing in the literary world was 
kept up by his five sons, who had all been distinguished 
students at Glasgow College. The only one who had 
not shewn any thirst for knowledge assisted him in his 
farm. The others had all been sent off with their 
winter supply of potatoes and meal to Glasgow, where, 
after the first year, they never cost their parents any- 
thing, being able to save by summer private tuition 
what defrayed their expenses in winter. Farmer 
Buchanan's eldest son afterwards became Professor of 
Logic at Glasgow College, . . . One of the old man's 
chief pleasures we found to be reading Milton, and so 
great a master was he of Gaelic lore that he had trans- 
lated several books of Paradise Lost into Gaelic verse/ 

69 Addison's list of Leonora's library in Spectator 37 
(1711) includes only these novels: Cassandra, Cleo- 
patra (Calpren&de) ; Astr*a (d'Urf); Sydney's 
Arcadia ; The Grand Cyrus and Clelia (Mile, de 
Scud&y); Mrs. Manley's New Atlantis ; and one 
of the numerous collections of novels of the day. 

70 Agnes de Castro in the novel so called is described 
simply as * beautiful to excess, wise, discreet, witty/ 
Don Sebastian in The Nun as * of a sweet conversation,' 
Miranda in The Fair Jilt as ' tall and admirably shaped ; 
she had bright hair and hazel eyes, all full of love and 
sweetness. She had an air, though gay as so much 
youth could inspire, yet so modest, so nobly reserved, 
without formality, or stiffness, that one who looked on 
her would have imagined her soul the twin-angel of her 
body.. To this she had a great deal of wit, read much, 
and retained all that served her purpose. She sang 
delicately, and danced well, and played on her lute to a 



300 FICTION AND THE READING PUBXlC 

r 

miracle. She spoke several languages naturally; for 
being co-heiress to so great a fortune, she was bred with 
the nicest care, in all the finest manners of education ; 
and was now arrived to her eighteenth year.' 

71 Vide Taller 204 : * We writers of diurnals are 
nearer in our styles to that of common talk than any 
other writers ' ; and in Tatler 5 Isaac Bickerstaff ex- 
plains that * the nature of my miscellaneous work ' 
demands that he be given a licence for ' writing in an 
air of common speech.' 

72 Considering that it was taken by all the coffee- 
houses, and so passed through scores of hands in each, 
The coffee-houses were the channels by which culture 
was disseminated, and by 1715 there were nearly two 
thousand in London alone, * and by them, and in them, 
every class, profession, trade, calling, occupation, and 
shade of political opinion was fully represented ' 
(Sydney, England and the English in the Eighteenth Cen- 
tury, Vol. i. p. 8 1 6). As late as 1 754 the writer of the 
first number of The Connoisseur, giving 4 a view of The 
Town,' confines himself to the coffee-houses. 

73 Typical names of her novels : The Fatal Secret ; 
or, Constancy in Distress, Persecuted Virtue, Constancy 
Rewarded^ The Agreeable Caledonian ', The Unequal Con- 
flict ; or. Nature Triumphant, The Capricious Lover ; or, 
No Trifling with a Woman. These may be set off against 
the type-titles of twentieth-century popular fiction 
quoted on p. 54. The appeal made by Mrs. Hay wood's 
titles is not infrequently to a frank interest in the 
amorous, but she never exploits a sensual response, and 
is extremely practical and matter-of-fact (like Richard- 
son and Defoe) even in her earlier manner. There is, 
in fact, a sort of unromantic directness about such titles 
as Love in Excess, and The Power of Love in Seven 
Novels (Mrs. Manley) ; they completely lack the sug- 
gestiveness of the typical film-title e.g. Man, Woman 



NOTES 301 

an*d Sin y The Call of the Flesh and so are free from the 
nastiness that comes from invoking the Puritan sense 
of sin <o spice a surreptitious taste for the erotic, visible 
in the modern bestseller and film. 

74 More explicit references are to be found scattered 
through Jane Austen's novels than anywhere else, 
except in Addison's essays, e.g. Emma, Chap. xx. : 
' Living constantly with right-minded and well- 
informed people, her heart and understanding had 
received every advantage of discipline and culture.' 
It is essentially a social ideal in which conversation 
played an important part. One cannot read any novel 
of Jane Austen's without constantly meeting references 
to the role of conversation as a recognised social pastime 
and therefore an accomplishment. * " My idea of good 
company is the company of clever, well-informed 
people, who have a great deal of conversation " ' 
(Persuasion, Chap. xvi.). ' Their powers of conversa- 
tion were considerable ' (Pride and Prejudice) is high 
praise, and ' He has no conversation ' damning. In 
1853 * conversation ' still held its place a high one 
in the approved methods of using leisure : Philip in 
The Heir of Redclyfe says solemnly of an undesirable 
relative, * " I am convinced that he does not know what 
conversation is." ' William Hutton (one of the self- 
educated writers discussed in the previous chapter) 
writes in his History of Derby (1791) of the recreations 
of the town, that for ' the more refined ranks ' recrea- 
tion * consists in conversation, which is much cultivated 
here by small clubs or societies in nocturnal meetings. 
In these well regulated associations are united enter- 
tainment and improvement. To converse with the dead 
is the next pleasure to that of conversing with the 
living.; "both form the man. This pleasure is well 
known in Derby. Men of reading not alone abound, 
but there are many book societies who keep pace with 



302 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

r 

the press/ The positive ideal of self-discipline and 
austerity implied in the phrase ' a well-regulated mind * 
survived through the last century, as witness casual 
phrases in the novels e.g. ' the misery of ill-regulated 
feelings and of incapacity for mental exercise ' (Modern 
Accomplishments ; or, the March of Intellect ^ by Catherine 
Sinclair, dedicated to Queen Victoria). 

75 Coleridge noticed the change of taste as he noticed 
nearly everything. ' Walter Scott's poems and novels 
supply both instance and solution or the present con- 
ditions and components of popularity, viz. to amuse 
without requiring any effort of thought, and without 
exciting any deep emotion, . . . Compare Waverley^ 
Guy Mannering, and Co., with works that had an 
immediate run in the last generation, Tristram Shandy^ 
Roderick Random, Sir Charles Grandison, Clarissa Har- 
lowe, and Tom Jones (all which became popular as soon 
as published, and therefore instances fairly in point), 
and you will be convinced that the difference of taste 
is real, and not any fancy or croaking of my own ' 
(January 1821. Alhofis Letters, Conversations and 
Recollections of S. T. Coleridge). 

76 There is no room to support this statement, but 
any one who thinks of the weary expanses of Scott's 
historical scenes, especially the dialogue, and compares 
their effect on him with the pleasingly (though rather 
stilted) eighteenth-century conversation in Udolpho, 
will no doubt agree. If not, let him consider the family 
history of the historical novel, not merely the Westward 
Hos and Richards Yea-and-Nay but the Jeffery Farnols 
and Baroness Orczys, and finally such indisputable 
offspring as the following advertisement : 

4 Where Shakespeare told his love 

4 Shakespeare was a poet who got in some good lines, 
but he wasn't writing poetry all the time. He fell 



NOTES 303 

in love with Anne Hathaway, and used to sit in the 
chimney corner with her. Wouldn't it be great to 
know what Shakespeare said to her, what was the tale 
that Shakespeare told his love. Go to Stratford and 
sit in the corner where Shakespeare sat and feel your 
spirit liftat the touch of an Immortal/ [L.M.S.R.] 

77 This illuminating anecdote is related in Lock- 
hart's shorter Life, Chap. xn. The old lady con- 
cluded : ' But is it not a very odd thing that I, an old 
woman of gighty and upwards, sitting alone, feel my- 
self ashamed to read a book which sixty years ago I 
have read aloud for the amusement of large circles, 
consisting of the first and most creditable society in 
London ? ' So Clarissa was read aloud, and abandoned 
in its turn. In 1863 Charles Knight, writing of a 
project of his early publishing days, forty years or so 
earlier, for reprinting * Great Writers in a Volume,' 
says : * It was well for me that this project was not 
matured into a costly series, for it would not have com- 
manded a remunerative sale* There are some works of 
imagination that are almost unknown to the present 
race of readers. Who can avoid lamenting that Tom 
Jones, and Roderick Random, and Tristram Shandy are 
utterly gone out of the popular view ? ' 

78 ' Now, had the same young lady been engaged 
with a volume of The Spectator, instead of such a work, 
how proudly would she have produced the book, and 
told its name 1 though the chances must be against her 
being occupied by any part of that voluminous publica- 
tion of which either the matter or manner would not 
disgust a young person of taste . . . and their 
language, too, frequently so coarse as to give no 
very favourable idea of the age that could endure 
it.' PJorthanger Abbey. 

79 Fide the Everyman Edition (1931) of The Mys- 
teries of Udolpho, for which a detective novelist was 



304 FICTIQN AND THE READING PUBLIC 

selected to write an introduction. It maintains an 
apologetic note. To compare the degree of effective- 
ness of Mrs. Radcliffe's novel and R. Austin Freeman's 
is a useful exercise. 

80 E.g. ' " Betsy has just lost as good an, offer as any 
girl could desire, young Wilson, an honest substantial 
grazier as any in the country. He not only knows 
everything proper for his station, but is pleasing in his 
behaviour, and a pretty scholar into the bargain ; he 
reads history books and voyages of a winter's evening 
to his infirm father, instead of going to the card 
assembly in our town. . . . Well, for all this, Betty 
despised him and laughed at him ; but as he is both 
handsome and rich, I thought she might come round 
at last. . . . But it would not do. He scorned to talk 
that palavering stuff which she had been used to in the 
marble covered [circulating library] books I told you of. 
He told her, indeed, that it would be the happiness of 
his heart to live with her, which I own I thought was 
as much as could be expected of any man. But Miss 
had no notion of marrying one who was only desirous 
of living with her. No, no, forsooth, her lover must 
declare himself ready to die for her, which honest 
Wilson was not such a fool as to offer to do." ' The 
Two Wealthy Farmers. 

81 For the next twenty or thirty years the Cheap 
Repository was * the principal part of many an English 
cottager's library ' (Life of Hannah More, Henry 
Thompson, 1838, p. 50), and ' the staple light litera- 
ture in such orthodox village lending libraries as 
existed ' (Hannah More, Charlotte Yonge, p. 122). 

82 I am aware that this is a highly controversial sub- 
ject, and that some historians maintain that the loss of 
the commons meant little to the peasant. Statistics on 
this point are of little value, but the more sensitive kind 
of evidence offered by such a detailed study as George 



NOTES 305 

Bourne's Change in the Village shows conclusively that 
in some districts at any rate a whole popular culture 
was destroyed by the enclosure of the commons. 
Whether the peasant was better off or not as a farm- 
labourer from a material point of view does not matter 
(and actually he was not in most cases). 

83 Vivian Grey, Disraeli (1826); Granby, Henry 
Lister (1826); Sayings and Doings, Theodore Hook 
(1826-29); Tremaine, or, The M&n of Refinement, 
Robert Plymer Ward (1825); Pelham, Lytton (1827); 
Mothers and Daughters, Mrs. Gore (1831). All these 
bestsellers were necessarily confined to the well-to-do, 
until Routledge's Railway Library issued Pelham at 
is. 6d. in 1853. 

84 'In 1866 and '67 The Last Chronicles of Ear set 
was brought out by George Smith in sixpenny monthly 
numbers. I do not know that this mode of publication 
had been tried before, or that it answered very well on 
this occasion. Indeed, the shilling magazines had 
interfered greatly with the success of novels published 
in numbers without other accompanying matter. The 
public, finding that so much might be had for a shilling, 
in which a portion of one or more novels was always 
included, were unwilling to spend their money on the 
novel alone. Feeling that this certainly had become 
the case in reference to novels published in shilling 
numbers, Mr. Smith and I determined to make the 
experiment with sixpenny parts. If I remember right, 
the enterprise was not wholly successful/ Trollope's 
Autobiography, Chap. xv. 

85 Matthias, writing in 1797 (The Pursuits of Litera- 
ture}, pillories the popular novel as ' Travels for the 
Heart, and not the head/ and appends a footnote to 
* Travels for the Heart ' : ' All such works as abound 
in what is called in modern jargon, the sublime instinct 
of sentiment/ 



306 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

86 The sales of Lytton's Pelham are suggestive. It 
was first issued in 1828 in 3 vols. at 315. 6d, by Col- 
burn. Routledge's published their is. 6d. Railway 
Edition in 1853, and in five years it sold 46,000 copies ; 
the 2s. Railway Library Edition of 1859 sold 35>75O 
in thirty-four years, the 2s. 6d. Standard Edition sold 
4000 from 1 86 1 to 1874, a 33. 6d. edition in 1873 so ^ 
21,250 in twenty years, another is. Railway Edition 
in 1878 sold 4000, a 75. 6d. Library Edition in 1877 
sold 2260 in eleven years, the Shilling Pocket Edition 
in 1886 sold 20,000 in one year, the Sixpenny Edition 
from 1879 * 1890 sold 66,000. That is to say, of a 
not very popular novel and after the circulating libraries 
and immediate demand were supplied, nearly 200,000 
copies were sold at 3$. 6d. or less twenty-five to sixty- 
five years after it had been published. 

87 From mid-nineteenth century onwards an 
arrangement existed ' between certain publishers and 
the libraries by which the latter bought at least a fixed 
number of every novel issued by them. This sale 
nearly covered the cost of production, and generally 
relieved the publisher from any possibility of loss. The 
publisher being thus largely secured, was more ready 
to speculate in the work of a new author than he is to- 
day. By the present form in which a novel is issued 
the publisher must sell nearly ten times more to recoup 
his outlay than was necessary in the old three-volume 
days * (* The Issue of Fiction/ by Joseph Shaylor, 
Publishers' Circular -, October ith, 1910). And in 
1930 the outlay is very much greater than it was 
in 1910. 

88 Adam Bede ( put her at once and permanently 
beyond the reach of any pecuniary pressure ' (Leslie 
Stephen). Middlemarch brought her ,12,000. 

89 Mr. E. H. Lacon Watson, who as a journalist and 
novelist speaks with some authority, writes of the con- 



NOTES 307 

tinuation of this process whereby cheap re-issues of 
popular fiction destroy the livelihood of the novelist of 
the few : ' The fact is, that in recent years every change 
that has been made in the world of publishing and 
bookselling has been in favour of the few big sellers 
and against the author with a small, if select, audience. 
The cheap sixpenny and sevenpenny editions that we 
had before the war were all to the good of the popular 
writer : they gave his novels another lease of life, and 
himself another set of royalties. More than this, they 
assisted in spreading his name and fame among a class 
of readers whom he had perhaps not reached before. 
But these cheap novels, excellently produced as they 
were, and eagerly welcomed by the railway traveller and 
the lover of fiction who could not afford to buy crown 
octavo volumes at 6s. apiece, got sadly in the way of 
the less successful novelist who was accustomed to 
receive his fifty or a hundred pounds down in advance 
on account of royalties. Now that prices of novels are 
beginning to rise again, it is possible that his lot may 
become easier, but I doubt it. The cost of production 
has increased also, to such a degree that publishers look 
askance at any author who can only claim a small fol- 
lowing. I have often wondered how some of our great 
novelists of the past would have fared if they had been 
born in the present age of cheap books. Meredith 
himself, for example. He had the fortune to produce 
most of his early fiction under the old system of the 
three-volume novel a system that ensured some mone- 
tary return for good though not necessarily popular 
work. If a new Meredith were to arise to-day it is 
not impossible that publishers would get tired of pro- 
ducing his books at a loss before he had succeeded in 
educating a sufficient section of the reading public 
into a proper and profitable appreciation of his 
genius/ Lectures on Dead Authors. 



308 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

90 ' In my boyhood I was brought up among plenty 
of people of the poorer sort, whose childhood dated 
from before the Act of 1870. Some were illiterate; 
but the number who could read was not very much less 
than it is to-day. But, anyhow, the older England was 
not illiterate. Of the dependants about my relatives 
all read the Bible, many the Pilgrim's Progress. The 
difference between the old England and the newer 
England is that people have by now fallen into a habit 
of perpetual reading, which in the better day: the great 
mass of English men and women did not/ Hilaire 
Belloc, New Statesman, March 29th, 1930, 

91 A selection from the coinages made by one con- 
temporary bestseller : sex-instinct, sex-essence, sex- 
distrust, sex-awareness, sex-thrill, sex-duty, anti-sex 
resolutions, sex-thrilled, sex-foolish, sex-fool, sex- 
desire, sex-abyss, 'sex-craving, sex-issue, sex-outlook, 
sex-lesson, passion-hot moment, passion-cold. Most 
of these are used more than once in. the pages of Life 
and Erica, Gerald Cranston's Lady, and Masterson : A 
Story of an English Gentleman. But over against them 
ought perhaps to be set this sentence from the first- 
named novel : ' Sexless as a schoolboy, she looked into 
the future/ 

92 Consider the history of John Passmore Edwards 
(b. 1823), son of a carpenter, who eventually made a 
fortune by buying the Echo, and founded 26 public 
libraries, 9 hospitals, 3 art galleries, and many chari- 
table institutions. In his reminiscences, A Few Foot- 
prints (1906), he published his credo : 

1 1 BELIEVE 

4 I believe, with Shakespeare, that a divinity is 
shaping our ends, rough hew them how we will, and 
that " Heaven hath a hand in all " ; with Schiller, that 
" Justice is the keystone of the world's wide arch, sus- 



NOTES 309 

taining and sustained by all " ; with Elizabeth Barrett 
Browning, that " no lily-muffled hum of summer bee 
but 6nds some coupling with the spinning stars " ; 
with Herbert Spencer,' that . . .; with Mazzini, that 
" the word Progress, unknown to antiquity, is destined 
henceforth to be a sacred word to Humanity, as in it 
is indicated an entire social, political and religious 
transformation " ; with Thomas Carlyle, " that modern 
majesty consists in work " ; with Victor Hugo . . . ; 
with Frederic Harrison . . . ; with J. S. Mill . . . ; 
with Emerson, that " there will be a new Church 
founded . . . that will have heaven and earth for its 
beams and rafters, and service for symbol and illustra- 
tion " ; with Humboldt . . . ; with Longfellow . . . ; 
with Spinoza . . . ; with Ruskin . . . ; and with 
Tennyson, who " doubts not through the ages one 
increasing purpose runs, and the thoughts of men are 
widened with the process of the suns " ; and that 
" the face of Death is turned towards the Sun of 
Life." ' 

93 Appended to a memoir of Marie Corelli by her 
companion Bertha Vyver is * A Personal Tribute ' by 
J. Cuming Walters, in which the following occurs : 
* It was only an advocate of purity and of the higher 
life, a believer in the divinity of the overruling purpose 
and in the uplift of the race, who could have set herself 
the mission of preaching against desecration and debase- 
ment/ An Oxford undergraduate wrote to her : ' Your 
immense popularity is the result, as it seems to me, of 
your originality and sincerity, your passionate appeals 
to the people's feelings (which, often unlike their 
opinions, have always truth in them) combined with 
dramatic power, are directed on the points which at 
present most nearly touch the hearts, as, for instance, 
the vague impression that science is overthrowing 
religion and the best hopes of man/ 



310 FICTION AND THE READING PUBUC 

04 Fide, for instance, the first of the ' Letters to the 
Industrious Classes ' (Reynolds' Miscellany, Vol. i,, No, 
1 2), in which, pending his address on the slogan * the 
discontent which is based on reason and justice,' 
Reynolds urges that ' the millions have a right to some- 
thing which they have not got, and which is sure to be 
unfolded to them by the book of education. . . . You 
are intelligent and enlightened by .^-education (no 
thanks to the State !) ; whereas, fifty years ago, not one 
of your class was able to read, where now* ja. hundred 
can not only read and write fluently, but are also pos- 
sessed of much useful information and miscellaneous 
knowledge. Is it not, then, a sin to withhold from you, 
or to attempt to withhold, any means of intellectual 
improvement which it may be in the power of the 
wealthy and great to afford ? ' etc. Compulsory ele- 
mentary education set going our neat system of examin- 
ations and * subjects ' which replaced the old vague 
ideal of a liberal education. The new ideal can be 
studied in Love and Mr. Lewisham, or less directly in 
any other of the works of Mr. H. G. Wells. 

95 How primitive and amateur his technique was 
may be gathered from the following (pitying) quotation 
from a modern journalist and advertising expert : ' The 
headlines were often picturesquely worded, though the 
type was modest. Even the greatest stroke of his 
career, " The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon, " 
was not heralded with bold captions. The first of a 
series of articles that produced an unparalleled sensa- 
tion in the country was begun a few lines from the foot 
of a column. Imagine an editor of to-day, even of the 
most conservative paper, tucking away his biggest 
feature in the bottom corner of a page ! * (Harold Herd, 
The Making of Modern Journalism, p. 26). )Vhen 
Northcliffe took over the Times in 1908 he found it 
necessary to make such elementary alterations in the 



NOTES 311 

make-up as fixed places for the regular features and 
proper sequence, according to the same authority. 

96 Soon after Tit-Bits had established itself, he is 
reported to have said to Max Pemberton : ' The Board 
Schools are turning out hundreds of thousands of boys 
and girls annually who are anxious to read. They do 
not care for the ordinary newspaper. The man who 
has produced this Tit-Bits has got hold of a bigger 
thing than he imagines. He is only at the very 
beginning of a development which is going to change 
the whole face of journalism/ 

97 * One of the many fallacies associated with Fleet 
Street in the mind of the outside world is that 
journalism requires a high standard of education and 
ability/ Michael Joseph, Journalism for Profit. 

98 He is, of course, his own advertising agent as 
well ; journalism has learnt a good deal from the art 
of advertising, but advertising had first to catch up 
with journalism, which had consciously been practising 
the principles of copywriting since NorthclifFe broke 
into Fleet Street. Vide^ for instance, his or his 
brother's insistence on ' human stories only,' the 
definition of a human story being, ' If there is a fire in 
the City and 5000 worth of merchandise is burnt, 
that's a news item worth three lines. But if at the same 
fire a fireman risks his life to rescue a black kitten from 
the top story that's a human touch worth half a 
column.' 

99 I am indebted for my acquaintance with the busi- 
ness side of the process to Vol. n. of the Labour 
Research Department Studies in Labour and Capital 
The Press (1922). The influence of the modern Press 
on society, though chiefly in its political bearing, is 
admirably discussed by Norman Angell in The Press 
and the Organisation of Society (1922). A naively un- 
critical and therefore peculiarly valuable account of the 



312 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

new Press is to be found in Harold Herd's The Making 
of Modern Journalism [* The romantic story of the re- 
making of British Journalism readably told '] (1926), 
the author being the Principal of the Regent Institute 
(which teaches journalism and short-story writing) and 
author of text-books on advertising. An equally naive 
biography of Northcliffe by one of his staff, to which 
frequent reference has been made in this chapter, is of 
great anthropological interest, and Tom Clarke's My 
Northcliffe Diary (1931) is another illuminating docu- 
ment, 

100 Northcliffe, being the Napoleon of the Press, 
naturally disliked having to play second fiddle to the 
advertiser, but Hamilton Fyfe notes the effect on his 
papers of the growing power of the Advertising 
Director, against which he was helpless. 

101 ' He [Northcliffe] discovers how easy it is to 
work up public interest. He notes that the mass of 
people have no tastes of their own ; they will adopt any 
that fall in their way. Give them a great deal to read 
about any topic within their comprehension : they will 
think they are getting what they want, will ask for 
more. . . . What he and K. J. have discovered, what 
they are exploiting, is the docility of the public : its lack 
of ideas. They can compel it to be interested in this 
or in that. Football, for example. That has been an 
interest for a small number, for those who could go to 
see matches played, for staunch supporters of the 
various teams. The newspaper can make football 
interest an enormous number. Not only by printing 
a great deal of news and gossip about the game, but 
by competitions for money prizes. 1 Hamilton Fyfe, 
op. a'/., p. 65. 

102 When Northcliffe edited the New York World 
for one day, ' the style which he asked the staff to follow 
was that of what he called " tabloid journalism. " No 



NOTES 313 

piece of news was to be given at greater length than 
250 words. No pictures were admitted, which showed 
that for once his instinct was faulty : he did not foresee 
that tabloid treatment of newspaper topics would cause 
a desire to grow for " something to look at " in place 
of " something to read." ' Hamilton Fyfe, op. cit^ 
p. 156. 

103 Vide Fremantle's account of the level of intelli- 
gence in the early nineteenth century (England in 
the Nineteenth Century^ 1801-05, pp. 96-98): 'No 
country in the world had so well-informed a middle 
class. Higher in the scale, the quintessence of 
intelligence was fully developed. It was a society 
which worshipped wit ... a standard was set up. ... 
The leading public men of the day, Pitt, Fox, Wynd- 
ham, Wilberforce, and above all Sheridan, were noted 
for the good things they said/ ' When and how the 
governing classes received their high intellectual equip- 
ment it is not easy to see/ Fremantle confesses. And 
he goes on to say that at schools and universities they 
seemed to do nothing, though ' the precocity of the 
youth of that age was, indeed, remarkable/ The 
explanation perhaps is that a real intellectual life 
animated the educated classes. There was, for instance, 
a cultivated Parliament. And the upper class showed 
their interest in letters by surrounding themselves with 
the literary figures of their time. Lytton in Eugene 
Aram pays the governing class a lengthy compliment 
on their intellectual attainments which nowadays would 
be ludicrous, but a sounder witness is Moore, who in 
his diary records (April 28th, 1831) his opinion that 
4 in high life one met the best (i.e. most intelligent) 
society,' and gives a list of above a dozen peers who 
are striking testimony to his argument. 

4 The recognised defect of the Public Schools in the 
reign of George in. was a moral rather than an intel- 



314 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

lectual one ; Arnold's intense earnestness of character 
and fidelity to principles became great agencies in 
transforming the life, not only of Rugby, but of the 
Public School group. The Clarendon Commission of 
1861-64 noted the moral change that had passed over 
these schools within the preceding generation; it 
affected the proprietary schools which were being 
founded in the latter part of Arnold's life, and subse- 
quently it passed through Rugby boys to Oxford and 
Cambridge and so to English education rs a whole/ 
(J. W. Adamson, English Education //c?9-/po^, p. 67.) 
One of the B novelists replying to the questionnaire 
(vide Part I. Chap. III.), wrote : ' I once asked D. H. 
Lawrence if he realised how grateful he should be for 
not being hampered by the impedimenta of a public 
school and University education/ 

104 No better anemometer than the new (Fourteenth) 
edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica could be found. 
Part of the advertising matter announces, under the 
heading * Anticipates Better Salesmanship/ that * The 
New Edition of the Britannica is a business man's 
Encyclopaedia/ 

105 Cf. advice to copy-writers by English advertising 
agents and journalists, e.g. ' When writing think of the 
masses. Practise Mass Psychology ' (An Outline of 
Advertising^ Elwyn O. Hughes). ' Advertisement 
Copy is rooted in human nature. It ought to be plain 
even to the inexperienced that successful copywriting 
depends upon insight into people's minds ; not into 
individual minds, mark, but into the way average 
people think and act and the way they react to sugges- 
tions of various kinds ' (Advertisement Writing, Gilbert 
Russell). The close connection between fiction and 
copy-writing is brought out in Sir Wm. Crawford's 
(or Crawford's Advertising Agency) injunction to read 
the Bible, Kipling, and Stevenson, because ' they know 



NOTES 315 

how to touch the human heart/ and Gilbert Russell 
who for the same reason recommends for ' A Copy- 
writer's Bookshelf ' Shakespeare, C. E. Montague, the 
Bible, Macaulay's Essays, The An of Writing^ and 
dictionaries of quotations and similes, and adds : 
' What you have to remember is that, for the most part, 
your public is the great middle class. What kind of 
reading does the great middle class prefer? It buys 
44 bestsellers " in enormous quantities. You must not 
write such slipshod stuff. But what you write must be 
not so very far removed from it/ 

The copywriter employs * mass psychology ' when 
he announces that the Right People or the Best People 
smoke cigarettes, wear linings to their coats, etc., 
or that * Everyone is reading .' A somewhat more 
subtle case is an advertisement that appeared recently : 

4 A Book for the Few, 
1 20th thousand/ 

106 About five thousand churches now exhibit Wayside 
Pulpit posters. Vide the Advertising World^ December 
1925, for an article by the Church Publicity Secretary 
on * How the Wayside Pulpit Scheme was Organised * : 
4 At the Church Advertising Section of the great 
World's Advertising Convention at Wembley, I had 
met leading Americans who ran big Church adver- 
tising movements in the States. Their enthusiasm was 
infectious, and their charts, diagrams and statistics, 
inspiring/ etc. Vide booklets published by the Church 
Publicity Section of the National Free Church Council, 
especially ' The Wayside Pulpit at Work,' for evidence 
of the success of 4 this result-bringing enterprise.' The 
same organisation issues a 4 Free Churchman inset ' 
which helps to make * a bright, homely and thoroughly 
alive Church Magazine,' for 4 however well edited the 
local pages of a Church Magazine may be, if an inset 



316 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

is commonplace, narrow in outlook and lacking the 
bright journalistic touch that the public is accustomed 
to in modern popular journals, the Magazine will fail 
to " grip " ' (from the Publication Department Report 
presented to the Annual Assembly of the National Free 
Church Council, 1930). It. also circulates ' " Worth 
While" Leaflets/ The activities of the Church 
Publicity Department form a record of the influence of 
journalism on the modern Church. Apart from the 
idiom, which may equally well derive froir the Press, 
I can find no particular trace of transatlantic influence 
beyond the initial impulse referred to. The signifi- 
cance of the form the movement has taken lies in the 
fact that it might equally well have been home-grown. 
It is a beautiful instance of the workings of the herd 
instinct. The success of Rotary in England was made 
possible only by the breakdown of a social and religious 
tradition. 

107 Cf. the change of national character which 
modern business methods are rapidly effecting. The 
1929 Interim Report of the Committee on Education 
for Salesmanship devotes a chapter to * The Salesman ' ; 
its implications may be gathered from the following 
extract : ' The importance, in a modern phrase, of 
being " a good mixer " is emphasised by a large number 
of witnesses from very different countries, both new 
and old. . . . This remark is supported by an interest- 
ing article in a recent issue of tie River Plate Review 
which lays stress on the importance of " the combined 
virtues of personality and appearance, the height of 
merit [being] a certain affability even effusiveness 
. . . and a consistent habit of looking at the bright 
side of life in general/' ' The virtues of being * a good 
mixer * and * voting the good-fellow ticket ' have 
acquired value in other worlds than that of business 
for instance, in academic circles. 



NOTES 317 

IDS < Punch's attitude seldom caused much surprise, 
for his opinions and views could generally be foretold. 
It was the manner in which they were put forth that 
carried weight and influence ' (M. H. Spielman, The 
History of * Punch'}. ' The fault here, as always, lies 
in regarding Punch as a comic journal ; it has lived and 
thrived and prospered where others have wilted and 
decayed by making itself first and foremost a picture 
news-book. . . . Said a friend once to me and he had 
lived for many years in India with whom I was dis- 
cussing the question : " You would hardly credit the 
number of times when in India I was referred by my 
people at home to some joke in Punch as typical of the 
spirit in which they were carrying on during a crisis." * 
(Kennedy Jones, Fleet Street and Downing Street.} 

109 F or instance, when the values of the minority 
were prevalent there was a sanction behind self- 
cultivation. Round about 1840 working-men all over 
the country themselves formed and named Mutual 
Improvement Societies, shopkeepers and skilled artisans 
enthusiastically joined Athenaeums, and Philosophical 
Institutions flourished even in such an unlikely place 
as Mjle End. [These continued in many cases till the 
'eighties and 'nineties and even later, when they 
degenerated into amusement-halls for billiards, danc- 
ing, and whist drives. The history of this movement 
amd its end has yet to be written.] There was appar- 
ently no self-consciousness about the somewhat pathetic 
nomenclature. Cf. too the titles of the ordinary suc- 
cessful magazines of the late eighteenth century, e.g. 
Westminster Magazine, or Pantheon of Taste, Town and 
Country Magazine, or Universal Repository of Knowledge, 
Instruction and Entertainment. It was this sanction, the 
sympathetic atmosphere, that made possible the his- 
tories of Lackington, Samuel Drew, and others men- 
tioned in Part II. Chap* II. The influence of the con- 



31 8 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

temporary environment is in the opposite direction ; 
a complaint made by a young man in an educational 
office is typical : ' If you try to improve yourself or 
read books that you think will be educational, they say, 
" Well, thank God, Tm a damn good Philistine ! " ' 

110 Vide the burst of hostility that greets an exhibi- 
tion of Epstein's work, which to the rational mind 
would seem quite uncalled for, since no one need see 
it unless he chooses. But see the vindictive correspond- 
ence on the subject in the New Statesman and Nation 
during April and May 1931. The anti-highbrow 
attitude to criticism can be studied in the article 
' Criticism * by an eminent belletrist in Vol. in. No, 18, 
of Life and Letters. 

111 Kipling is actually mentioned by Gilbert Russell 
(Advertisement Writing) as having the natural gifts 
required in a copywriter, above all * the ability to 
introduce into his writing a note of authority and 
" knowledgeableness." ' 4 Of two suggestions, that 
which the more perfectly embodies the voice of the 
herd is the more acceptable. The chances an affirma- 
tion has of being accepted could therefore be most 
satisfactorily expressed in terms of the bulk of the herd 
by which it is backed. It follows from the foregoing 
that anything which dissociates a suggestion from the 
herd will tend to ensure such a suggestion being 
rejected. For example, an imperious command from 
an individual known to be without authority is neces- 
sarily disregarded, whereas the same person making the 
same suggestion in an indirect way so as to link it up 
with the voice of the herd will meet with success.' 
(W. Trotter, Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War^ 

P- 33-) 

112 Appropriately value for money. The recent 

popularity or extremely long novels published at half 
a guinea (The Forsyte Saga, A Modern Comedy ', The Good 



NOTES 319 

Companions, Angel Pavement, Rogue Henries, Imperial 
Palace, Broome Stages, etc.) is only to be explained thus. 
118 Cf. the following advertisement taken at random 
from one of the luxurious women's magazines : 

1 FOR THOSE WHO LIVE GRACIOUSLY * 

* Those who golf at St. Andrews . . . grouse hunt 
on the Scotch moors . . . shop in the Rue de la Paix 
. . . sun themselves on the shores of the Mediter- 
ranean , . . those who live graciously, are fastidious 
in their choice of ships. They are in that discrimin- 
ating coterie of travellers who invariably sail on the 
Majestic (world's largest ship).' 

It is in this way that the standard and aims of living of 
the majority are changed. 

114 Cf. note 74; and vide the eighteenth-century 
inscriptions in Westminster Abbey, which testify to 
the strength of a mode of thinking and living now 
extinct. A characteristic ending : ' In him strong 
natural parts and the love of justice and humanity 
improved by education formed the valuable character 
of a good man.' Epitaph on William Wragge. 

115 That the public knows what it wants is made 
evident from the titles and advertisements of novels 
seeking bestseller success. A sedate or unromantic 
title is likely to damn a novel or film which might other- 
wise have had a large public, e.g. : ' It was unfortunate 
that Griffith should have chosen so essentially abstract 
a word as " Intolerance " for the title of his most 
ambitious film. It was unfortunate from the com- 
mercial standpoint, that is ; for if we disregard the box 
office, we shall find that the word " Intolerance " 
constitutes a very good title indeed ' (R. P. Messel, 
This Film Business, p. 96). Whereas novels in the early 
nineteenth century would be called Patronage or Per- 



320 FICTION AND THE READING PUBUC 

suasion, and even in Mrs. Gore's more commercial age, 
Female Domination or A Terrible Temptation^ unless they 
followed the more usual rule of being named after 
hero or heroine or place, in the twentieth century 
they must promise romance or fail. Vidv p. 54, for 
variations on the type-title, The House of Dreams-Come- 
True. It is .not only the great public that is thus 
suggestible. A kind of cultured fantasy is extremely 
popular with the middle-brow public of late there 
has been a string of successes of this type at this level. 
David Garnett, to take a striking instance, may be said 
to owe his success to his style (vide pp. 36-7) and his 
flair for this kind of theme and title. 

118 It may be urged that in the twentieth century 
the machinery of advertising and publicity is employed 
to make the public demand what Big Business chooses 
to provide. And this is so of most things : the women's 
magazines serve to force up the standard of living (with 
consequent economic trouble), the Northcliffe Press 
created an interest in professional football (vide note 
101), and such matters. But in fiction and films no 
advertiser could force a non-existent interest ; what 
the producers do is, having discovered a latent need, 
to make it an active one and the satisfaction of it 
habitual. In this sense they do control taste, by keeping 
it down at the lowest level of awareness. The process 
at work on the film is described thus by Mr. Paul 
Rotha in The Film Till Now (1930), (q.v. also for the 
merging of gramophone-, cinema-, and film-owning 
companies, so that the supply of popular amusement is 
now practically in the hands of one organisation) : 
1 After some consideration, I have ultimately decided 
(with a few notable exceptions) to regard Hollywood 
much as I would a factory, managed and owned by a 
few capable business men, who seek only large financial 
returns from the goods that they manufacture. . . . 



NOTES 321 

Now the vagaries of public taste are well known, and 
it has been the constant occupation of the film producer 
to gauge that taste and to keep abreast with its fluctua^ 
tions. But, not content with pandering to the public 
taste, the film producer has also set out to create public 
likes and dislikes by clever advertising and world-wide 
distribution of certain classes of films. In a business- 
like way the film men of Hollywood have experi- 
mented with the appetite of the public, and they are not 
to be blamed from a commercial point of view for 
having turned out stereotyped productions when the 
masses have shown their acceptance of such forms. 
When any new type of film comes from Hollywood and 
is successful, there quickly follows a swarm of similar 
but inferior pictures, trading on the reputation of the 
first. To the shrewd observer of the cinema, the diffi- 
culty lies in differentiating between films demanded by 
public taste and movies deliberately foisted upon the 
masses. The public does not by any means choose its 
own players. . . . Actually, it is simply the basic principle 
of advertising.' 

117 Cf. too jazz-lyrics. Useful collections of these 
are sold by Messrs. Woolworth as Talkie Song Books 
and Record Song Books. 

118 The wide use by advertisers, in order to attract, 
impress, and coerce, of the words ' personality,' 
1 creative,' ' inspiration,' is suggestive. 

119 Vide Tristram Shandy, Book II. Chap. xi. : 
* Writing, when properly managed (as you may be sure 
I think mine is), is but a different name for conversation. 
As no one, who knows what he is about in good com- 
pany, would venture to talk all : so no author, who 
understands the just boundaries of decorum and good- 
breeding, would presume to think all : The truest 
respect which you can pay to the reader's understand- 
ing, is to halve this matter amicably, and leave him 



322 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

something to imagine, in his turn, as well as your- 
self, 1 etc. 

120 A parallel example is the imposition of an ideal 
of photographic art on the public by means of the 
periodical. Any one who consults The Pictorial Press : 
its Origins and Progress, by Mason Jackson, will be 
agreeably impressed by the examples of woodcuts 
which illustrated early publications and equally dis- 
tressed by the final illustrations (reproduced in all good 
faith). Arthur Waugh in A Hundred Tears of Puklish- 
ing (p. 190), has a useful note on an unsuccessful 
editor : * When he started Black and White y the first 
plank in the programme was the restoration, in a 
popular illustrated weekly, of the finely executed wood- 
engraving ; and that in the very hour when the general 
public's taste had been debauched already by the spate 
of half-tone blocks, and by the popular doctrine that 
photographs must be the best pictures, since " the 
camera can never lie." ' As a result, the affair of the 
Haig memorial, for which see the correspondence that 
appeared in the Times and the comments of the popular 
Press. 

121 As witness the survival of the old romances as 
the light reading of the lower orders (Richardson makes 
the fire in Clarissa due to ' the carelessness of Mrs. 
Sinclair's cook-maid who, having sat up to read the 
simple History of Dorastus and Faunta, etc.). The 
equally fearsome light reading of the eighteenth cen- 
tury survived for the lower orders of the nineteenth. 
Pamela was peddled by the number-man, Jane Eyre's 
nursemaid Bessy told her * passages of love and adven- 
ture taken from old fairy tales and other ballads ; or 
(as at a later period I discovered) from the pages of 
Pamela and Henry, Earl of More/and,' etc. 

122 In an article on advertising in Posters and 
Publicity 1929 there is a discussion of what is called the 



NOTES 323 

shock value ' of the poster and how it may most suc- 
cessfully be used, which unconsciously suggests the 
tempo of twentieth-century life. ' The shock value of 
a poster,' the writer states, * is such a very important 
asset to an* advertiser, that when the same shock has 
been used widely, it becomes a very small shock indeed/ 

123 It is an increasing temptation, now that amuse- 
ments are organised by Big Business : e.g. an article in 
the Film Weekly^ September 2oth, 1930 : 

4 ALL-DAY CINEMAS, PLEASE i 

WHY don't cinemas open earlier? 

In few districts outside the West End of London do 
film programmes commence before the afternoon. In 
some towns it is impossible to visit the pictures until 
the evening. 

Morning and afternoon picture-going is proving 
increasingly popular. . . . We are glad to hear that a 
movement in favour of all-day cinemas has been started 
in the provinces. The custom should become uni- 
versal/ 

The extent to which the next generation will be 
affected by these conditions may be suggested by 
stating the results of an informal enquiry conducted by 
the writer : elementary school teachers from industrial 
areas and cities were asked whether any or what pro- 
portion of their pupils visited the cinema regularly, and 
the answers were always, Oh, all of them, two or three 
times a week,' or, ' As often as they can afford/ The 
larger cinemas in some parts of England have special 
id. seats for children in the afternoon. 

124 ^yriters who furnish weekly essays for news- 
paper? and periodicals develop a ' personal ' style 
compounded of archaisms, whimsical phraseology, and 
echoes from Lamb, Hazlitt, etc. The letters of 



3^4 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

privates in the last war revealed this influence * ere ' 
instead of * before/ and so on. 



126 i^e literary quality of advertising copy must be 
kept at the high level it has reached. Authorities admit 
that the best examples of modern, vigorous English are 
to be found in the advertising pages of newspapers and 
magazines/ Advertising and Selling^ 1924, p. 248. 

126 Tk e wr iter is inclined to suggest tentatively that 
here may be an explanation of the interesting fact that 
the twentieth-century public is less easily moved than 
any of its predecessors. The eighteenth century, which 
did not have to train itself to hold out against intensive 
and scientific shock appeal, wept at Sidney Biddulph(vide 
Dr. Johnson) and shuddered at Mrs, Radcliffe, stimuli 
too delicate to affect the modern nervous system. It 
now takes a greater stimulus than they provide to 
produce any effect at all. Mary Rose and the fiction 
recommended by the Crime Club have to work much 
harder to achieve the same end. Layers of the public 
from time to time become hardened to certain effects 
this is known as sophistication and it then becomes 
necessary to disguise the particular appeal by finding a 
new formula for it (e.g. Hemingway's A Farewell to 
Arms y vide the concluding pages). It is then described 
as ' piquant.' The ironic cheers, or amusement other- 
wise expressed, of sophisticated cinema audiences at the 
old-fashioned type of film are instructive. Cf, note 23. 

127 This is not to say that we do not and rightly 
require the author to preserve internal consistency (as 
in Wuthering Heights)^ so that Masson was perfectly 
justified in complaining in his British Novelists and 
their Styles (1859) : ' The very element in which the 
novelist works is human nature; yet what sort of 
Psychology have we in the ordinary run of novels ? A 
Psychology, if the truth must be spoken, such as would 
not hold good in a world of imaginary cats.' 



NOTES 325 

128 See, for instance, the account of Lord Gayton 
and Nancy Blow (Mrs. Dalloway^ pp. 266-7), which the 
reader is regretfully obliged to conclude was not 
intended to be ironical. (If it is objected that they are 
seen through the medium of Mrs. Dalloway, a com- 
parison with the accent which conveys her impression 
of Hugh Whitbread ought to decide the point.) This 
represents a pervasive element in Mrs. Dalloway, a 
remarkable and dazzling novel rather than a great one, 
But.this i not to say that even the early novels of this 
author are not in another class altogether from those 
of the novelists classified as B in Part I. Chap. III. 
These last will not stand consideration at all. 

On the other hand, Virginia Woolf is able to bring 
off a far more subtle irony than Jane Austen's because 
of her command of a more complex technique ; the 
presentation of Mr. Ramsay (To the Lighthouse, pp. 56- 
6 1) is an achievement of which Jane Austen could have 
no conception. 

129 The immense technical progress of fiction, in the 
sense that means for achieving ends with the utmost 
economy are now taught by any school of journalism 
(the slickness of the magazine story and the post-war 
circulating library novel reveal the novel of Fielding 
and Dickens to be a patched-up, cumbersome, and 
wasteful affair), enable any one desirous of being an 
author to achieve his ambition by studying his 
predecessors. 

130 Charlotte Bronte in this is in the same camp as 
Ethel M. Dell, and such of the novels of the immensely 
popular Rhoda Broughton (Cometh Up as a Flower 
(1867), 3rd ed. same year, etc.) as the writer has found 
time to examine are all repetitions of one another. 
Moreover, they have had innumerable avatars (the suc- 
cess of Precious Bane is easily explained), particularly 
the classic Victorian bestseller Comin* Thro' the Rye 



326 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

(1875), but these later authors need not have read their 
predecessors to produce their versions, which obviously 
come straight from the heart. 

131 (a) and (b) are mere tissues of cliches. It would 
be a valuable piece of research that would trace the 
cliches of the Victorian and Georgian bestsellers to 
their sources. Where, for instance, did Florence 
Barclay's 4 He was sobbing as only a strong man can 
sob ' come from originally (variant, ' He wept like a 
little child ') ? and ' He swore softly to himself ' ? 

132 p or example, the right way for a fascinating 
woman to behave, from Arnold Bennett and the maga- 
zines ; the emotions proper to a manly man, from 
Kipling, Masefield, and Gilbert Frankau. 

133 A mild instance of the process from Florence 
Barclay, in which an ideal that directly conflicts with 
experience is none the less quite gratuitously given 
moral support : * The doctor's face was grave. For a 
moment he looked silently into the fire. He was a man 
of many ideals, and foremost among them was his ideal 
of the relation which should be between parents and 
children ; of the loyalty to a mother, which, even if 
forced to admit faults and failings, should tenderly 
shield them from the knowledge or criticism of out- 
siders. It hurt him, as a sacrilege, to hear a daughter 
speak thus of her mother ; yet he knew well, from facts 
which were common knowledge, how little cause the 
sweet, lovable woman at his side had to consider the 
tie either a sacred or a tender one ' (The Mistress of 
Shenstone). A whole line of novels, from The Way of 
All Flesh (begun 1 873) to Death of a Hero (1929), have 
been provoked as a reaction against this sort of thing, 
and though no doubt healthier than the bestsellers have 
no more relation to art than they. 

134 The enormous sales of the writings of Marie 
Stopes show conclusively that a considerable part of the 



NOTES 327 

community requires elementary advice (and takes it 
without flinching at the level and in the idiom of the 
C novelist I am not thinking of the medical or moral 
problem) on the most elementary and essential matters 
of emotional conduct. I could find no more convincing 
proof of the incapacity of the twentieth century to 
manage its emotional life for itself. 

135 A note on Gal/ions Reach seems called for. 
Though the * thoughts ' are lame enough taken in this 
way, they, are found impressive in their context by suit- 
able readers. In some ways the author is a distinguished 
writer at that level ; at any rate he is not a literary 
novelist. The direct transcript of jungle experience is 
much more satisfactory, but it occupies a very small 
proportion of the novel, which otherwise contains anti- 
highbrow sentiment, such evidences of getting laughs 
cheaply as * a quiet chuckle ' humour at the Strand 
Magazine level and plenty of traces of the character- 
istic middlebrow attitude of disavowing seriousness 
after enjoying the unaccustomed sensation of pro- 
fundity and * mysticism/ 

138 ' In the English novel, more than in any other, 
there is a traditional difference between that which 
people know and that which they agree to admit that 
they know, that which they see and that which they 
speak of, that which they feel to be a part of life and 
that which they allow to enter into literature. There 
is the great difference, in short, between what they talk 
of in conversation and what they talk of in print. The 
essence of moral energy is to survey the whole field, 
and I should directly reverse Mr. Besant's remark and 
say not that the English novel has a purpose, but that 
it has a diffidence. 1 The Art of Fiction (1884). 

137 These are extracts from two letters received by 
popular novelists from their readers : * I love your 
work, and delight in its appearing now, when ideals in 



328 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 



life and fiction are dim, too often/ ' I must send you 
a taessage of intense gratitude for the uplift and stimu- 
lant God has sent me through your pen.' Jeanette 
Porter Meehan in her Life of her mother writes : 4 The 
boy Freckles [in the bestseller of that name] is a 
composite of high ideals merged with field experiences 
of an oil man who helped her.' 

138 * It is not merely phrases, slogans and speeches 
that are demanded of advertising men ; rather is it 
truth, philosophy, and vision ' (Advertising ard Selling 
(i 924)). This book is itself a useful document of what 
is happening to the language. It consists of * Digests 
of the Leading Addresses of the Nineteenth Inter- 
national Convention of the Associated Advertising 
Clubs of the World ; Held in Atlantic City, N.J., 
1923.' On p. 250 W. S. Crawford declares: * This 
meeting of American and British advertising agents is 
one of those quiet unassuming events, not uncommon 
in history, which give no outward sign of their real 
significance.' One outward sign is that it is impossible 
to distinguish on internal evidence the speeches made 
by English business men and advertisers from those 
made by Americans. The speeches were not only on 
such subjects as * Literature and Art in Advertising ' 
and * The New Vision in Community Advertising,' but 
also on ' Making Advertising Appeal to Emotions,' 
4 Making the Lay-Out Dynamic,' * Class Appeal in 
Mass Media,' and a whole section which can only be 
described as ' Advertising God ' lectures on * Busi- 
ness Principles Applied to Church Advertising,' 
* Advertising the Bible,' ' Spirituality in Church Adver- 
tising,' etc. In 1930 English religious societies have 
taken to calling their periodicals by such titles as ' The 
Brotherhood Uplift,' It is, of course, impossible to 
separate words from current modes of thinking and 
feeling associated with them. Cf. the use of ' virile.' 



NOTES 329 

139 E ^ We females don't really change/' re- 
torted that woman. " We only pretend to " ' ; ' that 
sub-conscious judgment which sways the heart of 
womanhood ' ; * the suspicion, which comes at times 
to all of us^who think deeply, that life without love is 
unworth the living/ All taken at random from Life 
and Erica. 

140 Cf. the journalist in Life and Erica : ' When 
I've got anything important to tell the public, I always 
tell \t to them in cliches because that's the way they 
understand it best.' But this is not all the truth ; those 
who write at that level are unable to express themselves 
except in cliches cf. passage (b). 

14 * Cf. D. H. Lawrence : * For even satire is a form 
of sympathy. It is the way our sympathy flows and 
recoils that really determines our lives. And here lies 
the vast importance of the novel, properly handled. It 
can inform and lead into new places the flow of our 
sympathetic consciousness, and it can lead our sym- 
pathy away in recoil from things gone dead. Therefore 
the novel, properly handled, can reveal the most secret 
places of life. . . . But the novel, like gossip, can also 
excite spurious sympathies and recoils, mechanical 
and deadening to the psyche. The novel can glorify 
the most corrupt feelings, so long as they are conven- 
tionally " pure." Then the novel, like gossip, becomes 
at last vicious, and, like gossip, all the more vicious 
because it is always ostensibly on the side of the 
angels.' Lady Chatterley's Lover. 



THE OUTLINE OF POPULAR FICTION 

No attempt is made here to record all popular successes or even 
all popular novelists. Each novel is chosen as representative of 
the popular fiction of its time, and if a gap in years is left it may 
be assumed that the same kind of fiction was being read in the 
interval. In general the first successful novel only of a steady 
bestseller is recorded. Translations that affected popular fiction 
and taste are enclosed in square brackets. 

1578 Euphues : The Anatomy of Wit John Lyly. 
1580 Euphues and his England Lyly (reprinted to- 
gether, and only stopped 1636). 
1590 Arcadia Sidney (6th Ed. 1622). 
1 594 The Unfortunate Traveller Nashe. 

1597 Jack of New bury Deloney. 

Before 1598 Ornatus and Artesia Emanuel Forde (8th Im- 
pression 1683). 

1598 The Gentle Craft, I. Deloney (till i8th C). 
Parismus Emanuel Forde (7th Ed. 1724). 

Before 1 600 Thomas of Reading Deloney. 

[1612 Shelton's translation of Don Quixote, Part I.] 

(immensely popular, and other translations). 
[1637 Cervantes' Exemplary Novels] (very popular). 
[1652 Cassandra and Cleopatra of CalprenedeJ (many 

editions, and several translations). 

1655 Parthenissa. A Romance. In Six Tomes Roger 
Boyle (continued to be issued in parts, reissue 
of whole 1676). 

[1655 an d onwards, translations of Mile, de Scudery.j 
1660 Bentivolio and Urania Nathaniel Ingelo (4th 

Ed. 1682). 

[1660 c.y Scarron translated.] 
1665 The English Rogue Richard Head (7th Ed. 

17*3)- 

330 



THE OUTLINE OF POPULAR FICTION 331 

[1677 *Brmond's Happy Slave] (5 editions by 1729). 
1678 Pilgrim's Progress, I. Bunyan (25th Ed. 1738.) 
1680 Life and Death of Mr. Badman Bunyan (5 edi- 
tions by 1724). 

1682 The Holy War Bunyan (9 editions by 1738). 

1683 The Travels of True Godliness Benjamin Keach 

(gth Ed. 1726). 

1683 The London Jilt Alexander Oldys (2nd Ed. 

1684). 

1684 Pilgrim's Progress, II. Bunyan (i5th Ed. 1732). 
The Progress of Sin . . . in an apt and Pleasant 

9 Allegory B. Keach (4th Ed. 1707). 

The Adventures of the Black Lady Aphra Behn. 
Before 1685 The Unfortunate Lady: a True History Aphra 
Behn. 

1687 Cynthia (8th Ed. 1726). 

1688 Oroonoko, The Fair Ji/t, etc. Aphra Behn. 
1692 Incognita: or^ Love and Duty Reconciled Con- 

greve (3rd Ed. 1713). 

[i 692 Marie Catherine La Mothe's Ingenious and Divert- 
ing Letters of the Lady ] (loth Ed. 1735). 

1696 Collected novels of Aphra Behn (6th Ed. 1718, 
8th Ed. 1735). 

[1708 Arabian Nights'] (innumerable editions). 

1709 The New Atlantis^ I. and II. Mrs. Manley. 

1710 The New Atlantis, III. and IV. Mrs. Manley. 

1719 Robinson Crusoe Defoe (7th Ed. 1726). 
Love in Excess, I. and II. Mrs. Hay wood. 

1720 Love in Excess, III., and reprinted entire (6th Ed. 

1725). 

Captain Singleton Defoe (2nd Ed. 1722). 
The Power of Love in Seven Novels Mrs. 

Manley. 

1721 Moll Flanders Defoe (3rd Ed. 1722). 

1722 Secret History of Cleomira Mrs. Haywood (5th 

Ed. 1732). 
1 726 Gulliver's Travels Swift (10 separate editions by 

1727). 
1740 Pamela Richardson (5 editions this year). 



332 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

1742 Joseph Andrews Fielding. 

1748 Clarissa Richardson. 
Roderick Random Smollett. 

1749 Tom Jones Fielding. 
1751 Peregrine Pickle Smollett. 

History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless Mrs. Hay- 
wood (4th Ed. 1768). 

1754 Sir Charles Grandison : A Good Man Richard- 
son. 

1759 Tristram Shandy, I. Sterne (and so on). 

1761 Memoirs of Miss Sidney Biddulp}. Frances 
Sheridan. * 

1765 The Castle of Otranto Walpole. 

1766 The Vicar of Wahefield Goldsmith. 

The Fool of Quality Richard Cumberland. 
1771 The Man of Feeling Henry Mackenzie (and so 

till 1810+). 

[1773 Baculard d'Arnaud's Tears of Sensibility.] 
1775 The Correspondents (Minerva Press, reprinted 
1775, 1776, 1784). 

1777 The Old English Baron Clara Reeve. 

1778 Evelina Fanny Burney (4 editions by 1778). 

1789 A Sicilian Romance Ann Radcliffe (4th Ed. 

1809). 

1790 Ethelinda Charlotte Smith. 

1791 The Romance of the Forest Ann Radcliffe (4th 

Ed. 1795). 

A Simple Story Mrs. Inchbald. 
1795 The Monk Gregory Lewis (4th Ed. 1798). 
Henry Richard Cumberland (3rd Ed. 1798). 
1798 The Children of the Abbey Regina Maria Roche 

(loth Ed. 1825). 
1803 Thaddeus of Warsaw Jane Porter (passed 

through several editions straightway). 
Belinda Maria Edgeworth. 
1806 The Wild Irish Girl Lady Morgan (7 editions 

in less than 2 years). 

A Winter in London ; 0r, Sketches of Fashion 
T. S. Surr. 



THE OUTLINE OF POPULAR FICTION 333 

1814 W&verley Scott (sold 12,000 copies rapidly, 

considered remarkable). 
1821 Life in London , or the Adventures of Tom and 

Jerry Pierce Egan. 
1823 Theresa Marchmont^ or the Maid of Honour 

* Mrs. Gore. 
1825 Tremaine^ or The Man of Refinement Robert 

Plumer Ward. 

1826-29 Sayings and Doings Theodore Hook. 
1828 Pelham Lytton. 
1 8,2$ Richelieu G. P. R.James. 

1831 Mothers and Daughters Mrs. Gore. 

1832 Eugene Aram Lytton. 

1834 Last Days of Pompeii Lytton. 

1837 Pickwick Papers Dickens. 

1838 Oliver Twist Dickens. 

1 84 1 Ten Thousand a Year Samuel Warren. 

Charles O'Malley, the Irish Dragoon Charles 

Lever. 
1844 Conings by D i s rael i . 

1847 Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte. 

1 848 Vanity Fair Thackeray. 

1852 Uncle Tom's Cabin Harriet Beecher Stowe 

(i million sold in England this year). 

1853 The Heir of Redclyffe Charlotte Yonge. 

1 854 Westward Ho ! Charles Kingsley. 

1855 Paul F err oil Mrs. Archer Clive. 

1856 John Halifax^ Gentleman Mrs. Craik. 

4 It is never too late to mend ' Charles Reade. 

1857 Guy Livingstone^ or Thorough George A. 

Lawrence. 
Tom Brown's Schooldays Thomas Hughes. 

1858 jtdam Bede George Eliot (7th Ed. 1859, loth 

Ed. 1862). 

1860 The Woman in White Wilkie Collins. 

1 86 1 East Lynne Mrs. Henry Wood. 
The Cloister and the Hearth Reade. 
Framley Parsonage Trollope. 



334 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

1862 Lady Dudley's Secret M. E. Bfoddon (3 editions 

of 500 copies each sold out in ten days). 

1863 Held in Bondage Ouida. 

1864 Lost Sir Massingberd James Payn. 

1867 'Cometh up as a Flower ' Rhoda Broughton 

(enormous sales till the end of the century). 

1869 Lorna Doone R. D. Blackmore. 

1871 A Daughter of HethWm. Black. 

1874 Far from the Madding Crowd Hardy. 

1875 4 Comin* Thro' the Rye 'Helen Mathers. 

1876 The Go/den Butterfly Besant and Rice. 

1880 John Inglesant Shorthouse (9 editions in twelve 

months). 
(Silas Hocking from now till 1900+ sells an average 

of 1000 copies a week to his Methodist public). 
1886 Rider Haggard, Hall Caine, and Marie Corelli 

begin. 

1888 Robert Elsmere Mrs. Humphry Ward. 
- Plain Tales from the Hills Kipling. 

1889 Three Men in a Boat Jerome K. Jerome. 

The Master of Ballantrae R. L. Stevenson 

(4 editions in 1889). 
1891 The Little Minister]. M. Barrie. 

1893 Ships that Pass in the Night Beatrice Harraden. 
A Gentleman of France Stanley Weyman. 

1894 Prisoner of Zenda A. Hope. 

1895 Trilby George du Maurier. 

1900 The Life and Death of Richard Tea-and-Nay 

Maurice Hewlett. 
1905 The Scarlet Pimpernel Baroness Orczy. 

The Morals of Marcus OrdeyneW. J. Locke. 

The HU/H. A. Vachell. 

The Garden of Allah Robert Hichens. 

1908 The Blue Lagoon H. de Vere Stacpoole. 

1 909 Wells becomes popular as a propagandist in fiction. 
The Rosary Florence Barclay. 

1910 The Broad Highway Jeffery Farnol. 
1912 The Way of an Eagle Ethel M. Dell. 
1914 Tarzan of the Apes Edgar Rice Burroughs. 



THE OUTLINE OF POPULAR FICTION 335 



1919 Peter Jackson, Cigar Merchant Gilbert Frankau. 

1921 If Winter Comes A. S. M. Hutchinson. 

1922 The Forsyte Saga Galsworthy (3 reprints in 

1922). 

1923 The Middle of the Road Philip Gibbs. 

1924 The Green Hat Michael Arlen. 
Beau Geste P. C. Wren. 

1925 The Constant Nymph Margaret Kennedy. 
Sorrell and Son Warwick Deeping. 

1926 Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Anita Loos. 
[1927 yew Suss Feuchtwanger.J 

1928 The Bridge of San Luis Key Thornton Wilder. 
1930 The Good Companions J. B. Priestley. 
Vile Bodies Evelyn Waugh. 



SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY 

i. HISTORY OF THE READING PUBLIC. 
SELF-EDUCATION : 

Memoirs of Thomas Ho/croft Hazlitt. 
* Memoirs of the first forty-five years of the Life of James 
Lackington. Written by Himself (1791 further edi- 
tions with additions 1792, etc.). 
*The Life y Character and Literary Labours of Samuel 

Drew, A.M. By his Eldest Son (i 834). 
Advice to Young Men (1830); Life and Adventures of 

Peter Porcupine (1796) Wm. Cobbett. 
*The Life of Francis Place Graham Wallas. 
* Memoirs from Childhood William Hone (reprinted in 

Wm. Hone : his life and times F. W. Hackwood). 
* Early Days (1848); Passages in the Life of a Radical 

(1842) Samuel Bamford. 
Life and Character of Henry Hetherington (1849) 

G. T. Holyoake. 

James Watson^ a Memoir (1879) W. J. Linton. 
*The Life and Struggles of William Lovett^ in his pursuit 
of Bread) Knowledge and Freedom (1876) Wm. 
Lovett. 
* Memoir of William and Robert Chambers (1872) Wm. 

Chambers. 

*The Life of Thomas Cooper. Written by Himse/f(iSy2). 
The Autobiography of a Working Man, by ' One who has 
whistled at the plough ' (1848) Alexander Somer- 
ville. 

A Few Footprints (1905) J. Passmore Edwards. 
The Life of William Hutton. F.4.S.S. Written by Him- 

836 



SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY 337 

Autobiography of an Artisan (1847) Christopher 

Thomson. 

[For purposes of contrast, Edward Bok. An Autobiography 
(1921), with introduction by Northcliffe, and the Lives of 
twentieth-century journalists and newspaper proprietors 
generally.] 

THE BACKGROUND: 

Shakespeare* $ England (1917, Oxford). 

Rural Rides (1830) Wm. Cobbett. 

The Whistler at the Plough ; containing Travels, Statis- 

ticsj and Descriptions of Scenery and Agricultural 

Customs in most parts of England (1842-47, 1852) 

Alexander Somerville. 
Autobiography of Mrs. Fletcher (1875). 
The Rural Life of England (1838) Wm. Howitt. 
The Age of the Chartists (1930) J. L. and Barbara 

Hammond. 
English Literature and Society in the Eighteenth Century 

Leslie Stephen. 
* Education and Social Movements (1919) A. E. 

Dobbs. 

English Education^ 1789-1902 (1930) J. W. Adamson. 
Some Habits and Customs of the forking Classes. By a 

Journeyman Engineer (1867). 
* 'Change in the Pillage (1912)5 Memoirs of a Surrey 

Labourer ( 1 907) ; IVilliam Smith, Potter and Farmer ', 

1790-1858; The Wheelwright's Shop (1923) 

* George Bourne ' (George Sturt). 
The Agricultural Labourer ; A short summary of his 

position (1887 and 1893) T. E. Kebbel. 
The Village Labourer^ 1780-1832 J. L. and Barbara 

Hammond. 

4 England's Green and Pleasant Land ' (1925, Cape). 
Passages of a Working Life (1864) Charles Knight. 
** Nottingham and the Mining Countryside ' D. H. 

Lawrence (New Adelphi* August 1930). 
*Some of the English (1930) Oliver Madox Hueffer. 



338 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

HISTORY or VHB PRESS: 

Some Forerunners of the Newspaper, 1476-1622 

Matthias A. Shaaber, 
The Fourth Estate : contributions towards A History of 

Newspapers, and of the Liberty of the Press (1850) 

F. Knight Hunt. 
The Literary Profession in the Age of Elizabeth Phoebe 

Sheavyn. 

English Newspapers (1887) H. R. Fox Bourne. 
The History of 'Punch ' (1895) M. H. Spielmann. 
The Pictorial Press : its origins and progress (1885) 

Mason Jackson. 
The Making of Modern Journalism (1927) Harold 

Herd. 

Lord Northclijfe^ A Memoir (1922) Max Pemberton. 
*Northcliffe : An Intimate Biography (1930) Hamilton 

Fyfe. 

*My Northcliffe Diary (1931) Tom Clarke. 
The Life of Sir George Newnes, Bart. (1911) Hulda 

Friederichs. 

Fleet Street and Downing Street (19 20) Kennedy Jones. 
*The Press Labour Research Dept. (Labour Publishing 

Co., 1922). 

THE TRADE: 

A History of Booksellers (1873) H. Curwen. 
Annals of a Publishing House (1897) Mrs. Oliphant. 
The Profession of Letters, 1780-1832 ; Authorship in the 

Days of Johnson A. S. Collins. 
Le publique et les hommes de lettres au dix-huitiime siicle 

(1881) A. Beljame. 

The Truth about Publishing (1926) Stanley Unwin. 
A Hundred Years of Publishing (1930) Arthur Waugh. 
The Story of W. H. Smith and Son (1921) G. R. 

Pocklington. 
Illustrations of the Literary History of the Eighteenth 

Century (1817) John Nichols. 
' Publishing y Ency, Brit, (nth Ed.). 



SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY 339 

The Publishers 9 Circular. 

The History of the Catnach Press (1886) Charles 

Hindley. 

Autobiography (1883) Anthony Trollope. 
Daniel Defoe P. Dottin. 

LITERARY DOCUMENTS: 

Autobiography (1834) Sir Egerton Brydges. 
* Culture and Anarchy (1869) Matthew Arnold. 
Passages of a Working Life (1864) Charles Knight. 
* Signs of the Times,' Edinburgh Review (June 1829). 
The Progress of Romance (1785) Clara Reeve. 
Polly Honeycombe, a dramatick novel of one act (1760) 

George Colman. 

The Two Wealthy Farmers (1795?) Hannah More. 
*Cakes and Me (1930) W. Somerset Maugham. 
The Tatler^ Spectator^ Rambler^ Idler ^ Monthly Review, 

Literary Gazette^ Edinburgh Review^ Quarterly 

Review^ Eraser's^ Blackwood's, The Tellow Booty 

Punch (184.1-). 



THE CONTEMPORARY READING PUBLIC. 
USE OF LEISURE: 

B.B.C. Boot (1931 and 1932). 
** Motion Pictures * Ency. Brit. (14* Ed.). 

Panor antique du Cinema (1929) Lon Moussinac. 
* Star-Dust in Hollywood (1930) Jan and Cora Gordon. 

The Film Till Now (1930) Paul Rotha. 
[For comparative purposes, Middletown (1929) Helen M. 
and Robert S. Lynd, and Babbitt (1922) Sinclair Lewis.] 

* ROTARY INTERNATIONAL ': 

The Meaning of Rotary: By a Rotarian ; with an 
Introduction by John Galsworthy (1927); The 
Rotary Wheel ; a Magazine of Vocation^ Fellowship 
and Service ; Synopsis of Rotary. 
Y2 



340 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

Leaflets, booklets, etc., issued by Church Publicity 

Section of the National Free Church Council. 
The Book Society News, The Book Guild Bulletin. 

* Journalism for Profit (1924); Short Story Writing for 

Profit (1926); The Commercial Side of Literature 

(1925) Michael Joseph. 

The Contemporary Short Story Harry T. Baker. 
How to Write Saleable Fiction George G. Magnus. 

* Advertising and Selling (1924) ed. Noble T. Praigg. 
Outline of Advertising (1929)- -Elwyn O. Hughes. 
Nuntius : Advertising and its Future (i 926) ; Advertise- 
ment Writing (1927) Gilbert Russell. 

Advertising : its Problems and Methods ( 1 926) John H. 

Cover. 
Bigger Results from Advertising (1926)5 Effective Sales 

Letters (1925) Harold Herd. 
Commercial Advertising (1919) Thomas Russell. 
Fame and Fiction (1901); How to Become an Author 

( J 93) Arnold Bennett. 
*The Books You Read (published by the Book Society); 

The Bookworm's Turn (published by the Book Guild); 

weekly articles in the Evening Standard, by Arnold 

Bennett. 
Advertisement pages of Punch, the Observer and Times 

Literary Supplement, New Statesman and Nation, 

Good Housekeeping^ etc., Tat/er y etc. 



CRITICISM: 

*The Press and the Organisation of Society (1922) 

Norman Angell. 
*Afass Civilisation and Minority Culture (1930); D, H. 

Lawrence (1930) F. R. Leavis. 
The Dance of the Machines (1929) E. J. O'Brien. 
Hunting the Highbrow (1927) Leonard Woolf. 
Books and Persons (1908-1 i) Arnold Bennett. 
* The Decay of the Book ' (The Nation, August 30*, 



SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY 341 

The*Peril to Letters ' New Statesman (December yth, 
1929); 'The Commercialisation of Books' (New 
Statesman, March agth, 1930) Hilaire Belloc. 
Books and the Public [a symposium] (Hogarth Press, 

1927). 

t 

EVIDENCE OF PERIODICALS: 

*Punchy ^Week-End Review^ Life and Letters^ Daily 
Mail, John o* London's^ *Tke Listener. 



THE NOVEL. 
CRITICISM: 

* Principles of Literary Criticism (1925) I. A. Richards, 
*Notes on Novelists (1914) Henry James. 
The Craft of Fiction (19^1) Percy Lubbock. 
The Common Reader (1925); Mr. Bennett and Mrs. 

Brown (1924) Virginia Woolf. 
Prefaces to the novels of Henry James. 
*Review of The Modern Novel, by Elizabeth Drew (The 
Calendar, July 1926); * A Note on Fiction ' (The 
Calendar, October 1926) C. H. Rickword. 
The Handling of Words (1923) Vernon Lee. 
*Axel'$ Castle (1931) Edmund Wilson [on Joyce and 
Proust]. 

POPULAR FICTION : 

4 Sensation Novels ' Quarterly Review (1863). 
Novelists on Novels [an anthology], ed. R. Brimley 

Johnson. 
*' A Novelist's Feelings on Publication Day ' Gilbert 

Frankau (Publishers' Circular, January 3Oth, 1926). 
4 The Musical Novel ' H. E. Wortham (Nineteenth 

Century, February 1927). 

Lectures on Dead Authors (1927) E. H. Lacon Watson. 
'Three Famous Men' sidelphi, August 1926 [on 

Gilbert Frankau]. 



342 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 



* Sentiment and Sensibility in the Eighteenth-Century 
Novel ' Edith Birkhead (Essays and Studies of the 
English Association^ Vol. XL). 

'The Tosh Horse' (The Strange Necessity, 1928) 

Rebecca West, 
* Dickens, Reade and Collins (1919) W. C. Phillips. 

Life and Romances of Mrs. E/iza Haywood (1915) 
G. F. Whicher. 

Lives of the Novelists (1821-24) Walter Scott. 

Richardson (1928) Brian W. Downs. 

'The Lesser Novel, 1770-1800 ' H. W. Husbands 
(M.A. thesis, 1922, in London University Library). 

The French Revolution and the English Novel (1915) 
Allene Gregory. 

The Oriental Tale in England in the Eighteenth Century 
(1908) M. Pike Conant. 

My First Book (1894) ed. Jerome K. Jerome [contri- 
buted by Walter Besant, James Payn, W. Clark 
Russell, Grant Allen, Hall Caine, George R. Sims, 
Conan Doyle, Kipling, M. E. Braddon, Rider 
Haggard, Ballantyne, Israel Zangwill, Morley 
Roberts, Marie Corelli, ' Q ', R. L. Stevenson, 
Jerome K. Jerome, David Christie Murray, etc.] 
*' Tarzan and Literature ' E. H. Lacon Watson (Fort- 
nightly Review , June ist, 1923). 

Marie Corelli^ The Writer and Woman (1903) T. F. G. 
Coates and R. S. Warren-Bell. 

Memoirs of Marie Corelli (1930) Bertha Vyver. 

Mrs. Humphry Ward (1912) J. Stuart Walters. 

The Life of Mrs. Humphry Ward (1923) Mrs. G. M. 

Trevelyan. 
*' The Case of Mr. Hugh Walpole ' J. M. Murry 

(Nation and ^tthenaum^ July i6th, 1921). 
*' Wilder: Prophet of the Genteel Christ 'Michael 

Gold (New Republic , October 22nd, 1930). 
*Review of Go She Must, by David Garnett (The Calendar^ 

July 1927). 

** Defoe's Novels '; ' Richardson's Novels 'Leslie 
Stephen (Hours in a Library, I., 1877). 



SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY 343 

Life *anct Letters of Gene Stratton Porter (1927) 
Jeannette Porter Meehan. 

Review of A Modern Comedy, by P. Q. (Life and Letters, 
Vol. III. No. 17). 

[Dictionary of National Biography. 

A List of English Tales and Romances published before 
1740 Arundell J. K. Esdaile.] 

[Parodies of bestsellers are useful, e.g. Sensation Novels 
Condensed and Lot haw Bret Harte ; Novels by Emin- 
ent Hands Thackeray.] 



INDEX 



Addison, Joseph, 113, 115, 121 
sqq., 127, 220, 254; n. 69. 

Adclphi* Tfo, 20 ; n. 19. 

Adyertising 13, 182, 192, 194; 
n. i, i ;, 100, 104-6, 113, 115- 
116, 118, 122, 125, 128. 

Arcadia, 88-9, 94 ; n. 51. 

Auaten, Jane, 42-3,60-1,98, 124, 
127-8, 233; n. 74, 78, 129. 

Bamford, Samuel, no, 114, 116. 
Barclay, Florence, 54, 62-5 ; 

n. 40-2, 113. 
Barker, Jane, 1 26. 
Behn, Aphra, 1 18 sf$., 141, 253 ; 

n. 77. 
Bennett, Arnold, 22, 34, 46, 197, 

199; n. 21, 33, 132. 
Bible, the, 97, 100-1, 117, 210. 
Book clubs, 131, 147-9, 22 9- 
Book Guild, 22 sqq. 
Book Society, 22 sqq. 
Bourne, George, v. Sturt. 
Bronte, Charlotte, 60-2, 130, 

230, 237. 

Bronte, Emily, 42, 60, 238. 
Broughton, Rhoda, n. 1 30. > 
Bunyan, John, 97 sqq. y 114; 

4/> 57-9- 
Burroughs, Edgar Rice, 40-1, 50- 

54- 



Caine, Hall, 62, 64 ; n. 43. 

Cervantes, 118. 

Chambers, Robt. and Win., in. 

Chartism, 112, 116. 

Cinema, the, 51, 55, 57, 193 2 H 

271 ; n. 31, 115-16, 123. 
Coffee-houses, 172 ; n. 72. 
Collins, Wilkie, 33. 
Conrad, Joseph, 6, 46, 168, 213, 

238, 265-7. 

Conversation, 210; n. 74, 119. 
Cooper, Thomas, 112, 1 16. 
Corelli, Marie, 54,62-4,66, 166- 

167; n. 41-3. 
Criterion^ Thc> 20. 

Death of a Hero 9 71, 254; n. 

133. 
Deeping, Warwick, 25-6, 38-9, 

66-8 ; n. 44. 
Defoe, Daniel, 42, 69, 97, 102 

sqq., 1 1 8, 121, 127, 245-6; 

n. 60-4. 

Dekker, 88, 94-5. 
Dell, Ethel M., 12, 35, 54, 62. 
Deloney, 46, 86, 92 *qq. 9 95 ; 

n. 54-6. 

Detective fiction, 50-1. 
Dickens, 33, 38-9, 42, 44, 152-3, 

1 56-8 ; n. 64. 
Douglas, James, 101. 



346 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

I 

Drew, Samuel, 113. Hay, Ian, 37-8. 

Dumas, Alexandra, 52. Haywood, Mrs., izbsqq. ; n. 73. 

Hemingway, Ernest, 23, 199, 



Edgeworth, Maria, 63, 128-9. . 

Edinburgh Review, 1 1 3, 142, 169- Holcroft > Thomas > "3- 

n. 18. Hone, Wm., 109. 

Eliot, George, 33, 213, 256-7. How to Wri " S * leable Fic ' io *> 

Euphues, 88, 94 ; n. 51. * ; n ' +5' 

Hutchinson, A. S. M., 46, 69, 

70, 228. 
Fielding, 42, 126-7, 223. 

Fletcher, Eliza, 146 sqq. Idiom, 101, 124, 140-1, 143, 
Forde, 89 sf?., 95 ; n. 52-3. 154, 210, 255, 262 ; n. 71. 

Forster, E. M., 38, 62, 76-7, 232, Idler, The, 128, 130. 

264-5. 

Frankau, Gilbert, 38, 66, 68, James, Henry, ix, 42-3, 46, 60-1, 

101, 197-8, 236; n. 26, 44, 168, 223, 233, 264; n. 136. 

91, 139, 140. Joseph, Michael, 26-7, 181, 200. 

Journalism, 26, 87, 96, 117, 125, 

Galliots Reach, 247-51, 260-2; J? 1 ' 86 ' 2 5 6; n " 9. 9MO2, 

G^worthy, 36, 39, 4*. 63, 71, J7 ce ' J ames ' 46, 264. 

7 Kingsley, Charles, lor, 157, 191, 
Garnett, David, 36, 77, 262, ^ ^ ^ 5/ V ' 



, 6 

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 263. v . \ A ^, , x 

^,. t f _. _..:.. x Knight, Charles, 162, 173. 

Gibbs, Sir Philip, 69-73. 5 ' /J 

Godwin, 113,116. Lackington, James, 107 W ., 1 1 5, 
Goldsmith, 115, 122, 127. ^. 

Gore, Mrs., n. 1 8. Lawrence, D. H., 38, 46, 60, 76- 
Gould, Nat, 65. 77> 226 . n ^ Jff HJ 

Grand, Sarah, 71. Libraries, Circulating, 5 /#., 49, 
Greene, Robert, 88, 94. , JIf ^ , j6-?f I4J> 1$I ^ 

159,161; n. 5-6, 87. 

Hardy, Thomas, 39, 168, 213, Libraries, Public, 3 sqq., 114; 
265-7. n. 3-4. 



INDEX 



347 



Win., .1 16, Publishing, 24> 3 i, 2001, 152-3, 

Itibbock, Percy, ii, 232. 159, 161-2. 

Lytton, Bulwer, 159, 163-4; Punch, n, 76, 194-6, 228. 

n. '86. 

Quarterly Review ', 113, 142, 159. 
Mackenzie, Henry, 56, 134-5, Questionnaire, 40 jgf. 

154-5. 

MacNichol, Kenneth, n. 25, 31. 
Magazines, 18-19, 26-7, 29-31, 

42, 46, 47, 180 ; n. 109, 132. 



Mrs., 

H4-5, '$4; n.79. 
Rationalist Society, 116. 

Maitin Merprelate tracts, 88; Reader8> Librar ?> The > I2 > 



n. 50. 

Mechanics' Institutes, 116. 
Methodism, 115 ; n. 66. 
Moore, George, 168, 233, 262. 
More, Hannah, 136, 146; 

n. 80-1. 

Mottram, R. H., 76-7. 
Music, 83 sqq . ; n. 46-8. 
Mutual Improvement Societies, 

112, 116. 

Nashe,87, 89,94,217-19; n. 50. 
Newspaper, 3 sqq., 86, 130, 171, 
178, 192-3, 228 ; n. 7. 

Ouida, 43, 164. 



sqq. ; n. 2, 16-17. 
Reeve, Clara, 133. 
Reynolds' Miscellany, 175 sqq. ; 

n. 94. 
Richardson, 99, 122, 124, 127, 

I3M34-S,I56. 
Romances, 89 sqq., 1 18, 126 ; n. 

69, in. 
Rotary, 64. 

Scott, Sir Walter, 39, 44, 124, 

139, 152, 163, 169; n. 34, 

75-6. 
Self-educated, memoirs of the, 

106, ll\sqq. ; n. 109. 
Sensation novel, the, 153-4, 158- 

160. 

Sensibility, 135, 154; n. 85. 
Sermon, the, 85 ; n. 49, 66, 68. 
M?/*, 7^,44,46, 54, 138. 
Sheridan, Mrs., 134. 



Paradise Lost, 97 sj$., 116; 

n.68. 

Place, Francis, 116. 

Porter, Gene Stratton, 14, 39, 54, Short story, the, 27-8, 31. 

62-4, 268-9; n. 41, 43, 45, Smollett, 126-7, 139, 230. 

108, 137. Spectator, The, 122 sqq., 127, 132, 
Powys, 4 T. F., 38, 76-77, 210, 141, 172; n. 78. 

245, 263. Sterne, 126, 134-5, 219-21, 230 ; 
Priestley, J. B., 36, 76-7, 93, n, 1 19. 



348 FICTION AND THE READING PUBLIC 

Stopes, Marie, n. 134. Uplift, 164-5 n - 9 2 * 

Sturt, George, 48 ; n. 31-2, 82. 
Sunday book, the, 97, 1 17. 
Swift, no, 113, 115, 121. 



Tatler, The, 122 sqq., 127, 130, 

Hi- 
Thackeray, 1 58, 230, 252-4, 262. 

Theatre, the, 84 sqq . 
Three-decker, the, 161 ; n. 87, 89. 
Times Literary Supplement, 20; 

n. 13- 
Trollope, Anthony, 33, 42, 153, 

168, 252-4; n. 84. 
Truth About Publishing, The, 9. 

Ulysses, 38, 245, 268 ; n. 28. 



Wallace, Edgar, 65, 196. 
Walpole, Hugh, 24, 39, 6r, ;6-7, 

163 ; n. 20, 27. 
Ward, Mrs. Humpjbry, 63, 71. 
Way of All Flesh, The, 71, 254 ; 

n. 133. 

Wayside Pulpit, The, 64, 193. 
Wells, H. G., 63, 69-71, 232. 
Wilder, Thornton, 36, 46, 77 ; 

n. 27. 
Wodehouse, P. G., 12, 31, 37-9, 

196, 263. 
Woolf, V., 38, 51, 61, 76, *22- 

223 ; n. 28, 128. 
Wren, P. C, 38, 52, 65. 



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